Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The son-in-law

In a sense it's sheer absurdity to carp about a performance of La Fille du Régiment where the high-wire bit everyone knows was not only nailed but sung even better again as an encore. But then I've never yet let absurdity deter me here.

There's actually little to knock sonically. The singing is a feast, if you like the leads, and even if you don't (particularly), it's admirable all around. We learn that Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez can sing -- and well -- while doing gyrations, being carried about, etc. High notes are held, etc. etc. Felicity Palmer, a great dramatic singer not long ago, well continues her comic turn (she was also Mrs. Sedley in Grimes) as the Marquise de Berkenfeld.

And I suppose I should be thankful that the much-hyped import production (from London by way of Vienna) of Laurent Pelly et al. isn't as low and broad or busy and broad as recent homegrown attempts at bel canto comedy. But though it's not particularly objectionable and seems to engage the singers well and happily in its business, the wild accolades it seems to have gotten abroad are a head-scratcher. The mountain range made of maps that's the whole Act I set (it returns as the base for Act II's interior) is cute but not enough for the big Met stage, which, as here unrestrained, also swallows up most of the (much-praised) sentimental interplay. The update to circa-WWI is well and good -- it's the most recent time the aristocratic stuff that presents what passes for the opera's conflict can make sense -- but doesn't add anything.

Of course, the fact that an opéra comique -- done with dialogue -- actually got laughs in the vast Met space is a success of sorts. Then again, it didn't help that the dialog-only character (the Duchesse de Krakenthorp, played by Marian Seldes in a late substitution for Zoe Caldwell) was distractingly and loudly miked.

The glitzy red carpet gala and the scarcity of tickets for this run helped the event atmosphere, and I suppose it's a measure of Peter Gelb's success in his star-grabbing scheme that one can feel at all ho-hum about this convergence of talent.

In the larger scale of "events" the opening seemed quite far from, say, the epochal appearance of Gilbert Duprez or even the 1972 Met run of this very same opera. No one's sense of the world changed. But it was a good show.

UPDATE (3PM): Steve Smith agrees (thanks for the compliment!). Maury talks more about the singers (and I mostly agree, except I think Florez's account of the aria was an order of magnitude better than that of any of the auditioners who trot it out here annually).


  1. Trying to find an audience is an interesting problem. Going through another "town" is often a way of garnering publicity for productions in the US.

    My own production doesn't have that luxury - but maybe someone will want to pick up a portion of the concert and take it elsewhere and then the performance in Edinburgh will be the "coming from."

  2. Donizetti doesn't give a producer much to work with, dramatically. Let's face it, La Fille is basically a few showstopper arias strung together with some pretty tunes. In the circs, I think Pelly makes a pretty good job of it.

    Having seen it in London and Vienna I'm looking forward to Saturday's cinecast - not often you get the chance to make such a direct comparison. I predict the Met chorus may be found wanting....


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.