La Fille Du Regiment, Royal Opera House, London

5.00

Things have come on a little in the 40 years since Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti strutted their ample stuff in the last Royal Opera staging of Donizetti's Frenchified charmer.

In another 40 years someone will be talking about the night their successors - Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez - showed everyone how the piece should really be done. It's hard to imagine how this adorable, pint-sized, pairing could ever be bettered. But the same goes for the entire cast - as good as you could now muster from anywhere on the planet.

Drop them all into a production from Laurent Pelly that needs no special pleading on comedic grounds, and is by turns elegant, witty, and laugh-out-loud funny, and you've one of the happiest nights the Royal Opera has fielded since I don't know when.

A gentle yodel from a solo horn sets the Alpine scene. The designer, Chantal Thomas, has a map of the Tyrol quite literally strewn across the stage, crumpled sections of it marking out mountainous peaks. The French are on the offensive (in every sense) and the makeshift barricades on view are elaborate enough to send Trevor Nunn back to the drawing board with Les Misérables.

Enter the "daughter of the regiment", Marie - the sensational Natalie Dessay - who is a cross between Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane, only French. She's one of the lads, foul-mouthed and butch enough to tote a rifle but feminine enough to be ironing their undershirts or peeling their potatoes - and all the while tossing off Donizetti's wicked coloratura like it, too, is all in a day's work.

The real joy of Dessay's performance (and it's one of the best all-round operatic performances I've ever seen) is that the singing is always a true extension of the characterisation. The pyrotechnics are timed with such perfection, like verbal exclamations, that there isn't a note, a roulade, a top E-flat, that doesn't get a laugh. Being French she can play with the dialogue, too, and when she is reflective she is vulnerable and touching. Her excellent voice blooms pleasingly in repose, and her tender farewell at the close of act one could not be lovelier.

The local boy Tonio - Juan Diego Florez in lederhosen - is from the wrong side of the barricades. Of course, everyone is waiting for the succession of high Cs in his first-act clincher, and Florez pops them like shrugs of his elegant shoulders, bringing the house down in the process. The naturally high tessitura of his voice makes it all sound utterly effortless. We know better. But what makes Florez special, the tenore di grazia of his generation, are not the high notes, but the exquisitely fluid line, the way in which he is always seeking out and finessing the next elegant turn in the phrasing. When he pleads for Marie at the close of the show, it is the artistry and the grace of it that stops you in your tracks.

And that's the perfect outcome for a romance which begins with Marie offering Tonio a flower. As she does so a sepia postcard descends from above inscribed "Baromètre de l'Amour". It is just one witty aside in a production which abounds in them.

Laurent Pelly blocks the evening to perfection, making something hugely vibrant of his excellent male chorus and even creating (with the choreographer, Laura Scozzi) a tiny, chuckle-making, ballet for the parlour maids.

As I say, none of this would be possible without a truly stellar cast. Two marvellous character actor/singers - Alessandro Corbelli and our own Felicity Palmer - ensure that the comedy is well-anchored. And there's a third to give Palmer's indomitable Marquise de Berkenfeld a run for her money. Dawn French (as La Duchesse de Crackentorp) ditches the Dibley vicar's cassock for an appropriately mountainous frock and, in a ludicrous mix of bad French and colloquial English, gets her priorities right: "Sweetheart, don't be stingy with the chocolate fountains."

To 1 Feb (020-7304 4000; www.royalopera.org)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried