La fille du regiment, opera review

Royal Opera House, London

Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s La fille du regiment is so bewitching that’s it’s hard for those have seen it to imagine it being done any other way.

And his pairing of Juan Diego Florez and Natalie Dessay in the leading roles constituted an almost impossible double-act for other singers to follow.

Meanwhile his casting of Dawn French as the non-singing dowager La Duchesse de Crackentorp set a comic gold-standard which Anne Widdecombe, despite her valiant efforts, totally failed to measure up to in the first revival.

This new revival brings Dame Kiri Te Kanawa in that part, and although she gets an interpolated aria (from Puccini’s Edgar) to remind us that at 70 she can still sing high and sweetly, her attempts at clowning are far too tasteful to bring the house down as French did. 

On the other hand, we get a brilliantly funny Marquise de Berkenfield from the formidable Polish contralto Ewa Podles, while Patricia Ciofi makes a fine stab at incarnating the waif adopted by the regiment.

The best news is that Florez is back, and hitting the high Cs with effortless grace: Christian Rath’s revival-direction provides all the pace and preposterousness this charmingly wacky opera requires.