La Fille Du Regiment (Met Live)
30 May 2008 (Fri), Tokyo
The final offering of this season’s Met Live opera film series of a performance from one month earlier. I had really been looking forward to this because of its star Natalie Dessay, who was so amazing in another Donizetti title role in the Met’s opener Lucia last October. I missed the film’s initial showing in Roppongi and wasn’t about to make the same mistake with this special encore performance. The theatre was quite full, but I got a nice seat from some lady with an extra ticket. (She seemed to pick me out of the line because she wanted to speak English. I was happy to oblige for a good seat.) She actually saw this performance live in NY last month and was so delighted that she wanted to watch it again. I took that as a good sign.
The show was every bit as good as I had hoped. The show, set in the Austrian Alps, is a comedy about a young girl Marie who, as an orphan, was essentially raised by a regiment of French soldiers, including her effective guardian Sergeant Sulpice. She has been hanging around with a local who, she says, saved her life. When the troops bring in a prisoner, she discovers it’s that very man, Tonio, who has been looking for her. She has him freed, only to disclose to his disappointment that she can only marry an enlisted man. When he duly enlists, the situation then becomes complicated with the sudden appearance of Marie’s aristocratic aunt, who takes her long-lost niece back to her castle to educate her and marry her off well. Marie objects furiously to the arranged marriage, but learns eventually from Sulpice that her “aunt” is in fact her mother. Marie decides to abide by her mother’s wishes and marry. At the nick of time, she is rescued by the regiment. The wedding guests are horrified to hear of Marie’s background, but are impressed when Marie expresses her total loyalty to the troops. The mother has a change of heart and allows her to marry Tonio, and all ends happily if hardly credibly.
It would be difficult not to like this show given the fun story and the consistently tuneful music. With all the dialogue, it’s almost like a musical comedy. In fact, there was a completely non-singing role played (not particularly memorably, alas) by the estimable Marian Seldes. The director updated the show to WWI (the original dates from 1840), which could have been a real irritant, but fortunately he didn’t make too much of this. My entire reason for wanting to see the show was Natalie Dessay, and she was fantastic. She showed utter confidence and a go-for-broke style in the many farcical moments, like a Lucy Ricardo with a voice. I’m sure it helped that French is her native language (though that wouldn’t explain her gutsy Lucia), but she really took every opportunity by the horns. She reminded me of Reba McEntire in Annie Get Your Gun, my single favorite musical performance ever, in that the part seemed to be written for her. Her singing was effortless and artless, and it was amazing that she could do all that running around and still have energy to belt like that. It was a near perfect performance, a great bookend to her awesome Lucia. As a bonus, she was really cute and bubbly in the interview prior to the intermission. I can’t wait for whatever she does next.
On top of this was a superb Tonio in Juan Diego Flórez. He seemed to be having as good a time as we were in a completely natural performance. He sailed through the famous aria of the high Cs (no encore as hoped, though) and seemed in total control musically throughout. He and Dessay have great chemistry together. Somebody is undoubtedly planning their next show together as I write this. A dream couple if there ever was one.
The rest of the cast was fine, especially the aunt/mother, but it hardly mattered. The leads were what we came to see, and they were as good as we could have hoped. One of the best of the Met films that I’ve seen.