Melinda Hughes hears stratospheric top notes and sonorous bellowing in a hilarious spectacle of frivolity and fun
I scored top marks with Monsieur Legris on Monday by taking him to the first night of the revival of Laurent Pelly's La Fille du R’giment at the Royal Opera House.
What a romp of hilarity this is: half operetta, half bel canto, with a lot of 'can belto' supplied by its two stars, Patrizia Ciofi as Marie and Juan Diego Fl’rez as Tonio.
Tonight I was reminded how much of a club the Royal Opera House can be as Kasper Holten, director of opera, came on stage just before curtain up. There was a collective muttering of 'oh no', provoking him to say, 'Don't worry, it's not that bad.'
It seems sparkling soprano Patrizia Ciofi (taking up the mantle of Marie created in this production by Natalie Dessay in 2007) was recovering from a virus but was still going on. Hurrah! Yes, we made allowances for a little air in the middle range and the odd touch of huskiness but her stratospheric coloratura was phenomenal, given that much of it is optional.
She really proved herself to be a trouper. I can't believe she sang such a gargantuan role with her health not up to scratch and it is a testament to her technique, not to mention her resilience to the enormous pressure she must be under.
Ciofi was a little bit chaotic in the delivery of the role but the direction is frenetic, resulting in some quite hammy mugging and over-telegraphed delivery of gags. I would have liked it to have been a little less Christmas panto; I think we would have laughed more with some deadpan reactions, but sometimes that's what happens in a revival.
Juan Diego Fl’rez was a pitch perfect, solid tenor with that spot on Italian squillo sound. What a voice and what a rendition of his famous aria 'Ah mes amis' in which he delivers no fewer than nine top Cs in a row. The audience's applause and cheers were endless. He was certainly on the money and reveled in his glory.
Polish contralto Ewa Podles was a phenomenal Marquise of Berkenfeld, producing some superhuman low notes and great visual timing. Her scene with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was priceless entertainment; I really felt I was witnessing opera history while Dame Kiri delighted everyone with a rendition of a short aria from Puccini's Edgar.
Her non-speaking role of the Duchesse de Crackentorp (previously played by Dawn French and Ann Widdecombe) has been tailor-made for our favourite Kiwi, whose birthday falls on tonight's performance. She has some special arias up her sleeve for tonight so try and beg, borrow or steal a ticket for then. Kiri captured our hearts but, my, her French accent was distinctly Antipodean. I do hope this was on purpose because Monsieur Legris was appalled.
The set is lots of fun, the music wonderful and the chorus, who in one scene act out decrepit relatives attempting to dance at a ball, was so hysterical I could hardly breathe. This is an unmissable romp of a show guaranteed to entertain and delight. You won't be disappointed.
On until 18 March