Apr 25, 2008

"Salut à la France", not so much in French though

Overall, this run of La Fille du Régiment is a bit disappointing.

It took me a while to realize why, because Juan Diego Flórez was as wonderful and exquisite as always, Natalie Dessay doing what she's best at: acting in a comic opera* is a joy to watch.
Felicity Palmer and Alessandro Corbelli were irreproachable and, having previously seen the broadcast from last year's run at Covent Garden, I already knew I liked the work of Laurent Pelly on this one (despite the usual ugly set of Chantal Thomas - one has to understand Pelly always works with the same team and Chantal Thomas is the set designer on this overall pretty good team).

The first issue of this run is Marian Seldes, who filled in last minute for Zoe Cadwell. She doesn't obviously have the comic talent of Dawn French and Agathe Mélinand, who adapts the librettos of Pelly's productions (probably the best element of that team), was well aware of the situation, as she added some replicas, in a desperate attempt to compensate for the lack of comic presence of Seldes.
Most noticeably, whereas Dawn French was only justifying the absence of Duke Scipio (to be married with Marie) by "olympic obligations" (in English dans le texte), Marian Seldes also adds "Bobsleigh team" (also in English).
The other problem with Seldes is her French diction, or her lack of rather. For a native French like myself, this was truly unbearable.
Furthermore, the notary (Jack Wetherall) was also disastrous (Covent Garden had the intelligence to cast a French actor, Jean-Pierre Blanchard); these two ruined the first scenes of Act II (despite the efforts of Felicity Palmer).

"Tous les trois réunis", scene 10 of Act II
Covent Garden 2007

Yet those points can seem picky to anyone who does not understand French (i.e. the vast majority of the Met's audience). And they can only partially explain my relative disappointment. Nor could the (also) very poor diction of the chorus or its stiffness (once again, chapeau bas to Covent Garden for the excellence of its chorus - both singing and acting).

The "ironing scene", "Au bruit de la guerre", scene 3 of Act I
Ken Howard for the Metropolitan Opera, April 21, 2008

fin de l'air "Au bruit de la guerre", scene 3 of Act I
Covent Garden 2007

My real discontent is the conduction of Marco Armiliato.
Or more accurately, the instinctive comparison I made with Bruno Campanella, who brought fuzz and lightness to this piece in London. In perspective, although far from mediocre, Armiliato does not play in the same league as Campanella. I won't say his reading of that piece is rigid or heavy, but it's undoubtedly the main reason for my relative upset.

"Salut à la France", scene 7 of Act II
Sara Krulwich for the New York Times, Met April 21, 2008

Relative because, all and all, nobody can come close to the combination Dessay/JDF in that particular piece.

scene 7 of Act II
Covent Garden 2007

Met Photo Gallery of La Fille here.

* It must be said that Dessay didn't get all the credit she deserved on opening night. After the arias of bravery of JDF (including the perfect 18 high Cs), her "Il faut partir" was sensational and brought tears to my eyes.
But then again, JDF was also sensational in his emotional aria, "Pour me rapprocher de Marie" (surprisingly full of sensitivity and honesty).


mostly opera... said...

Thanks for an excellent report. As I´ve written elsewhere I completely agree with you about Seldes and the notary - even for non-French natives, the diction was unbearable.

Extatic said...

It really feels like we're the only two caring about that aspect though...

mostly opera... said...

No I don´t think so- I´ve had reports from others mentioning it as well. But obviously all those high Cs get the most attention..