Not many IMDb credits for this but it is the 2007 production from Covent Garden starring Juan Diego Florez and Natalie Dessay. This Donizetti opera was written for the Paris stage and it is interesting to see how easily Donizetti slips into the opera comique idiom, with spoken dialogue rather than recitatives. The libretto is a piece of froth but Donizetti's music is sparkling and it has been getting the best possible treatment in the last couple of years with Juan Diego Florez and Natalie Dessay touring the world's opera houses in the lead roles. This pair are currently the world's two leading high-note specialists and they do full justice to the roles in a way that has probably not been heard since the 1960s with Luciano Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland.
Florez gets most of the headlines with his show-stopping "Ah mes amis " with its nine top Cs. He hits those notes apparently effortlessly as though they sit in the middle of his range. Natalie Dessay, rather self-deprecatingly, refers to herself as a singing actress. That undervalues her wonderful voice that, in its own way, is every bit as exciting as Florez's but it does illustrate the importance that she gives to performing her roles. She displays her breathtaking vocal technique while ironing the regiment's vests (who irons vests?) or peeling their potatoes. I was particularly impressed by her performance of "Il faut partir " while dragging a washing-line full of the regiment's clothing across the stage. At the end of act one, she hits a high note and sustains it while being picked up and carried horizontally off the stage.
This performance was recorded by the BBC from a Royal Opera House performance in early 2007. The two stars are ably supported by Felicity Palmer as the Marquise de Berkenfield and Allessandro Corbelli as Sulplice. Dawn French has a mercifully small speaking role as a comic duchess. Sadly, the BBC also felt it necessary to have her introduce the opera and to burble over the credits. That small irritation aside, this is a truly memorable performance and one to treasure.
This production has also been filmed in its Viennese run (qv) and I recently saw a film of the identical production from the New York Met's 2008 season. It seems funnier than I remembered from the Covent Garden production but, when I checked, all the same comic business was still there. Perhaps it just got better with practice. The huge advantage of the Met version is that there is no Dawn French. However, high C fetishists will still prefer the London version. Florez hits all the notes but does not quite ping them in the same way in New York. He still gets his standing ovation though.
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