Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez
Photo : Ken Howard/Met 2008
Perhaps the biggest hit of the spring season, the Metropolitan Opera’s current run of Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment
is quite a wonder. Although it is fashionable on some music blogs to peck and moan about the production, it should be noted that Laurent Pelly’s design, which features Juan Diego Flórez and Natalie Dessay, does in fact live up to all the sold-out, high C, media blitz hype that has been pursuing it across the globe and into New York. I could sit here and carry on about Flórez’ performance, but there’s really no need at this point. (BTW he did not do an encore on Friday's performance, which frankly was A-OK with me. If I wanted to spend all evening marveling at physical prowess, I'd watch sports.) Instead, I’d like to focus on two other major contributors to this huge success.
First and foremost is Laurent Pelly. Directors and designers who specialize in opera often get a bad rap these days, but Pelly is one of the most exceptional directors working in the field today. Infinitely witty, with a playful visual style, he has helmed several of the best productions throughout the world in the last decade, many for the Opéra National de Paris. Not that he doesn't have his detractors who find his irreverence calculating and distracting. But frankly, they're missing the joke, but no matter, almost everyone else in these sold-out audiences seem to get it. His set of mountainous maps is brilliant and his comic use of chorus and dancers always seems right on the money. The criticism that this production is “too small” for the Met stage is ridiculous but not surprising considering the stages full of unnecessary shit that Met audiences have grown used to in countless productions for decades. Pelly’s Fille
is one example of what an excellent opera production can look like when the cast isn’t forced into submission but their dull surroundings and instead allowed to fill the theater with their singing and acting talents. (Gelb cannot get rid of all of those Zeffirelli monstrosities fast enough for my dollar.) Or in response to the couple next to us at dinner afterwards, yes this Fille
does not "look like an opera" and may be "too Broadway." That is precisely the point. "Looking like an opera" is exactly what makes them so often suck when they do.
But Pelly’s genius must have the performers to carry it out, and not only is he blessed with Flórez, but additionally benefits from a kindred spirit in Natalie Dessay. With so much attention and marketing around encores and high notes, Dessay’s brilliant work is getting short shrift. She is hysterical. Her Marie has apparently developed the ADHD one would associate with a child raised by a group of soldiers. Her singing is wonderfully acrobatic but best of all she never succumbs to making her entire acting performance subservient to it. She performs throughout with a physicality that demands attention and a subtlety to marvel at. This is not your great-grandmother’s stand-and-deliver performance and it should put to shame anyone who would continue to support such an approach to that particular art form. Dessay’s achievement is made all the more sweet by the support of two other world class singing actors – Felicity Palmer and Alessandro Corbelli. Dessay mentioned in last week's half-time feature of the HD broadcast that she finds a true mark of success when the audience can watch and forget that everyone on stage is singing. This run of La Fille du Régiment
stands as a great achievement towards this endeavor.
Labels: Dessay, JDF, Met opera reviews 07/08, Out of Town