At this revival of Laurent Pelly’s sparkling production of Donizetti’s sentimental comedy, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa steps into the cameo speaking role of the Duchess of Crackentorp, thus far taken in this staging by Dawn French and - somewhat less capably - Ann Widdecombe. The much loved soprano celebrates her 70th birthday during the run. She looks wonderful and moves with perfect grace, making a welcome return to the stage where she first appeared in 1971 and most recently in 1997.
Kiri Te Kanawa in La Fille Du Regiment by Donizetti at the Royal Opera House, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
Unsurprisingly, she is greeted with enormous affection, stealing a little of the limelight from the production’s stars - though they surely won’t mind that.
Italian soprano Patrizia Ciofi returns to the title role of the baby discovered on the battlefield and brought up by the entire regiment of soldiers as their communal daughter. Her brash, tomboyish manner combines with vocalism of considerable artistry. She’s more than matched by star Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez, one of the leading vocal artists of our time, who brings the house down with his spectacular feat of nine consecutive top Cs at the end of his Act I aria. But there’s much more to his performance than this moment of technical brilliance. He’s a charming and focused actor, and sings impeccably all night. You will never see or hear this role better done.
But there are other worthwhile contributions, from Polish contralto Ewa Podles’ Marquise of Berkenfeld - another star comic and vocal turn - as well as Pietro Spagnoli’s Sulpice and Donald Maxwell’s Hortensius. Yves Abel conducts an immaculate musical account of what is a thumping good show.