Gaetano Donizetti's "La Fille du Régiment" received a glowing premiere on Monday evening in a new production at the Metropolitan Opera House.
Played by Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez, Tonio, the mountaineer who would rather switch than fight, matures from sweet-voiced naïf to genuine hero in less than two hours. Mr. Florez has a spectacular voice, big and powerful when necessary, gentle and soft as appropriate. Further, he accomplished something quite heroic himself.
Luciano Pavarotti catapulted to stardom when he nailed the aria "Ah! Mes amis quel jour de fête," with its punishing nine high Cs, some years ago at the Met. Mr. Flórez created something of a scandal with this same aria at La Scala more recently, repeating it as an encore during performance and flaunting a 74-year prohibition of such flamboyant behavior. On Monday, he began the passage with supreme confidence and came through with flying colors.
This engendered a gigantic prolonged ovation from the crowd, boosting Mr. Flórez to do it all again. His encore was just as impressive, although, truth be told, he does not sustain that final note as Luciano used to. In the box score for this performance, Juan Diego Flórez went 18 for 18 in the high C department.
Our Marie was Natalie Dessay, who presented some very fine singing. Her "Il faut partir" was beautiful and extremely poignant. Her coloratura, however, tends to exhibit tightness and nasality in the upper register, and some of her high notes were noticeably sharp.
As a comic actress, Ms. Dessay is nonpareil. There was much breaking of the fourth wall in this new production by Laurent Pelly, and Ms. Dessay took full advantage of these liberties, talking directly to the audience and performing some of her acrobatics as a way of directly connecting with her loyal fans. After quite literally bursting through the assembled soldiers to sing her next number, she cajoled the crowd to end their applause so that she could proceed. Once silence was restored, she went back into the mob of men and burst through again, arms outstretched and ready for action.
The supporting cast, too, was exceptional. Felicity Palmer was simply wonderful as the Marquise de Birkenfield, and Alessandro Corbelli was both funny and eloquent as the sergeant. His "Rataplan" duet with Ms. Dessay was infectiously delightful. Also, what amounted to a cameo appearance by Marian Seldes as the Duchess of Krakenthorp was a crowd favorite.
Any opera that utilizes the Met chorus is bound to be a winner, and the men of this excellent ensemble were onstage quite a bit in this production. The sets of Chantal Thomas were serviceable and non-intrusive, and the washing lines filled with long underwear gave Ms. Dessay an entire shadow world in which to frolic.
The only real disappointment came from the pit. The normally superb Met orchestra did not have a great night, and from the overture forward, this was not a very bouncy rendition. At one point, Ms. Seldes admonishes Ms. Palmer not to "skimp on the Veuve Clicquot." We might all have been better served had she directed this comment to conductor Marco Armiliato, whose support was noticeably lacking in effervescence.
Until May 16 (Lincoln Center, 212-721-6500).