Notes and Editorial Reviews
Donizetti's La fille du régiment is a charming if vaguely empty-headed work, certainly more a French operetta than Italian opera buffa. It's a work impossible not to like and its two hours go by like wildfire, with memorable melodies, vibrant showpieces, and lovely tender moments burbling forth like an easily flowing stream. After Lily Pons' championing of it in the 1940s and '50s it crept away for a while, until Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti took the show on the road. I saw it and was dazzled by it at the Met in 1970--and to this day I've never heard such secure, high, florid singing from two such grand voices. In fact, you might argue that the pair outshone the opera, blowing it up
like a balloon.
Beverly Sills was a lovely Marie, also larger than life; Anna Moffo and Mirella Freni sang the role in the 1960s. Alfredo Kraus was the ideal Tonio. There are videos of both Sutherland (Kultur) and Sills (VAI) both a bit late in their careers; Sutherland sounds uncomfortably thick while Sills is somewhat shrill. Mariella Devia stars in a good 2003 La Scala video (on TDK) along with Paul Austin Kelly and Ewa Podles(!).
Well, toss them all out: this is the performance we've been waiting for. It's precisely the right size, the singers are young, in their primes, and come close to looking their parts. And it's funny without resorting to slapstick. It comes from the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa and was taped last year (2005). Director Emilio Sagi has updated the action to just near the end of World War II; the Tyroleans are now French and the French have become Americans. Julio Galan's sets and costumes are in keeping, with act one now taking place in a French café (not a village square) and the second act remaining in the chateau of the Marquise. Frankly, the alterations make no difference to the tone or style of the opera (although Marie has to change the names of her "fathers" at one point and "Pierre" in the original libretto becomes "Ryan"); the name of the game is entertainment, and this production is vastly entertaining.
When I first heard the Italian soprano Patrizia Ciofi 10-or-so years ago, I assumed she would be another in a long line of better-than-efficient lyric coloraturas, but she has turned out to be far more than that. As she proved in a recent video of Bellini's I Capuleti..., she is a superb actress and an almost flawless singer, with impeccable technique and pitch, great musical intelligence, and exquisite phrasing. The voice is lovely and round in the middle, the top is clear and exciting, with a sharpish edge, and the bottom of the voice is well-integrated. Here, she becomes Marie--loving, sweet, melancholy, vivacious, and spunky by turns.
She's only slightly upstaged by the splendid Juan Diego Florez, who dispatches Tonio's nine high-Cs in his first-act aria with such confidence, style, ease, and grateful tone that he sounds as if he could do it all again without breaking a sweat--and he does, at the audience's insistence. His lyrical singing, with smooth legato, long breath, and true attention to the text, is just as impressive--and he looks comfortable on stage. What a couple!
The Sulpice of bass Nicola Ulivieri is younger than usual and beautifully sung and acted, while the role of the Marquise is in great hands with Francesca Franci's contralto-ish sound--and she does not turn the part into a cartoon. The other soloists, chorus, and orchestra are excellent, and Riccardo Frizza's leadership is swift and witty except when he's milking a sentimental moment, which is both rare and welcome, given his singers' capabilities. The audience goes frequently--and appropriately--wild. Ciofi's French enunciation is good; Florez's is less so but still acceptable. Ulivieri's is so terrible that he almost justifies how poorly the French think of foreigners speaking their language.
The picture is bright and crystal clear, the direction for the small screen (by Andrea Dorigo) intelligent and varied, the sound (either stereo or surround) forward and well-balanced. An extra CD offers rehearsal footage and a discussion of the opera narrated by singers and conductor, a 10-minute look at the theater itself, and a trailer for another DVD. In short, this is a knockout and we'll be hard-pressed to find a better, more apt performance any time in the near future. [10/13/2006]
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
La fille du régiment by Gaetano Donizetti
Juan Diego Flórez (Tenor),
Dario Benini (Bass),
Patrizia Ciofi (Soprano),
Francesca Franci (Mezzo Soprano),
Nicola Ulivieri (Bass Baritone),
Filippo Bettoschi (Bass)
Genoa Teatro del Carlo Felice Chorus,
Genoa Teatro del Carlo Felice Orchestra
Written: 1840; Italy
Date of Recording: 2005
Venue: Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa, Italy
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