This Fille - with staging and costume design by French director Laurent Pelly - seamlessly transplants the action of the story to World War I Austria. It began life with premieres at the Royal Opera House (Covent Garden) and the Wiener Staatsoper in Vienna. This marks the North American premiere of Pelly's take on the beloved comedic tale. Chantal Thomas designed the sets, and Laura Scozzi contributed choreography.
Joining the creative team from the European stops are the same two romantic leads who gained this production acclaim among critics and audiences alike and who have contributed greatly to a nearly sold-out run. A few premium seats may still be found for one or two of the remaining seven performances.
Internationally-renowned coloratura soprano Natalie Dessay sings the vocal and comedic powerhouse role of Marie- adoptive daughter and "canteen girl" for the 21st French Regiment. While Dessay created a sensation earlier this season as the tragic title heroine in another Donizetti work, Lucia di Lammermoor, this marks her very first Fille with the Met.
Her performance in this particular staging - noted for sharp comedic skills to accompany her pristinely stratospheric vocals - earned her a Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera during the Covent Garden run. Having made her Met debut with Strauss' Arabella in 1994, Dessay's long list of notable credits includes such roles as Olympia in The Tales of Hoffmann (first at the Op_ra Bastille, dir. Roman Polanski), Amina in La sonnambula at La Scala and Vienna, Pamina in Die Zauberfl‹te, and the title role in Manon.
For all of the attention paid to Dessay's performance, similar accolades have fallen upon her leading man, Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Fl‹rez- whose effortless take on the Olympian "nine-C" aria (aka "Ah! mes amis, quel jour de fê_te!") has made waves around the opera world and earned him the ambitious title of "heir to Pavarotti." It was this very aria - known as the tenor "Mount Everest" - that is famously credited with making a star out of a young Luciano Pavarotti in the 1970s.
Fl‹rez made headlines in February of 2007 when his performance of "Ah! mes amis" at La Scala compelled an overwhelmed audience to demand a repeat performance, thereby breaking the theatre's 74-year-old "No Encore" tradition. Reportedly, this scene was reprised at Monday night's Met opening, with Fl‹rez performing an encore for an appreciative New York audience, raising his "high-C" tally to 18.
Also featured in the cast are English mezzo-soprano Felicity Palmer as the Marquise of Berkenfeld and Italian baritone Alessandro Corbelli as Sulpice. Both appeared in the Covent Garden mounting as well. Taking on the non-singing role of the Duchess of Krakenthorp (portrayed across the Atlantic by such luminaries as Dawn French and Montserrat Caball_) is stage legend Marian Seldes, who has replaced the previously announced Zoe Caldwell. Marco Armiliato conducts.
La Fille du R_giment is described by Met program notes as a "frothy comedy [that] mixes humor with a rush of buoyant melody and notorious vocal challenges." The story "concerns a young orphan girl raised by an army regiment as their mascot and begins at the moment of her first stirrings of love. Complications (and comedy) ensue when her true identity is discovered. The action is startlingly simple and unencumbered by intricate subplots, allowing the full charm of the characters and their music to come across in an uninhibited way."
Donizetti's score is "a deft combination of jaunty military tunes (including some actual French regimental songs from the composer's era), brisk comic numbers, enormously graceful ensembles and vocal solos, and sparkling arias."
The next performance - a matinee on Saturday, April 26 - will be broadcast "Live in HD" to movie theatres around the world. Please visit www.metopera.org for showtimes and theatre locations.
Read more about the the vocal demands of the piece in William Berger's Playbill Feature Article, Vocal Ease.
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Below are various photos from the final dress rehearsal of La Fille du R_giment, which runs through May 16.
All photos by Ken Howard for the Metropolitan Opera.