Laurent Pelly’s sparkling production of Donizetti’s frothy but heartwarming comedy returns to the Royal Opera House for a second revival, cementing its reputation as an enduring classic. The big change this time is in the title role of Marie, the adopted “daughter” of a regiment of French soldiers. Natalie Dessay’s dazzlingly energetic, totally immersed creation of the tomboy heroine for this production was always going to be a tough act to follow and Patrizia Ciofi - new to the role here, having played it elsewhere - does not eclipse it. Her slightly husky voice lacks the pinging clarity of Dessay, her comic timing is less sharp, her dramatic sense not as compelling. But Dessay is unique. By less super-human standards Ciofi turns in a good performance, ably conveying Marie’s petulance, volatility and sensitivity - her two romantic arias are genuinely touching.
Alan Opie (Sulpice Pingot) and Patrizia Ciofi (Marie) in La Fille Du Regiment at the Royal Opera House, London (previous picture shows Ann Widdecombe as La Duchesse de Crackentrop) Photo: Tristram Kenton
Her love-interest, Tonio, is played by Colin Lee, who had previously followed in the footsteps of Juan Diego Florez. His endearingly awkward charm gives the romance sincerity, and his voice is impressively free - he takes the string of top Cs in Act 1 in his stride. Newcomer Alan Opie plays the flamboyantly moustached Sergeant Sulpice with enjoyable relish, and Ann Murray again demonstrates her peerless dry comic stagecraft as the Marquise de Berkenfeld. Fortunately Ann Widdecombe does not need to do much acting in her spoken cameo as a matronly imperious Duchess de Crackentorp, receiving hearty laughter for references to Cornish pasties and Strictly Come Dancing. Yves Abel’s idiomatic conducting is lively and assured.
A little shine may have worn off the production this time around, but this is still a greatly entertaining evening.