I know I said I’d used up my life’s allotment of performances of Donizetti’s bonbon, but Dessay and Florez at the Met was too tempting to pass up. Laurent Pelly’s production moves the opera’s time to that of World War I. But when you set this opera is irrelevant. It succeeds or fails with its title character. Natalie Dessay was as bouncy as a spaldeen. She looked like a combination of Fanny Brice and Edith Piaf on steroids and happy pills. She took over the stage and brought this tired old mish mash to life. Vocally and histrionically she was perfect; forget about a mini-crack. She has a gift for comedy that’s unmatched by any soprano I can think of. When she wasn’t on stage the piece sagged to its proper level – sub par Donizetti, which is still better than almost anyone else. Her performance was one of the rare instances when an artist carries a work far beyond its usual potential. Wonderful. If you were just listening to Dessay’s performance you missed 90% of its impact. She’s truly a singing actress.
There’s a tenor in this opera. Dessay’s star power might have eclipsed a usual tenor, but the estimable Juan Diego Florez managed to be noticed. The current King of the Tenorinos (John Osborn is just as good, but doesn’t have as good a press agent), Florez tossed out the barrel of high Cs at the end of “Pour mon âme” with ostentatious ease. He has repeatedly said that the second act aria, “Pour me rapprocher de Marie” is the harder of the two. And for him it obviously is. Runs and high notes show off his bright and glinty voice. Its hard edge makes singing a long line a little more difficult. He did his best with the second aria, but it was clear he was working hard to make it effective. Osborn did more with the number. Tito Schipa who would have omitted all the high notes (in both acts) would have been perfect for this aria.
Now about the encore of Tonio’s first aria. There wasn’t one. Mr Gelb apparently couldn’t bring himself to press the encore button that travels with him wherever he goes like the nuclear football that follows the President of the US wherever he goes. Florez, who couldn’t have sung the aria any better at the prima than he did on Saturday, was obviously ready for a second launch, but Mission Control refused permission. (I love mixing all these metaphors and similes.) Since everyone was expecting an encore its absence was a real downer. Mr Gelb must have considered the cheering that followed Florez’s performance insufficiently rabid.
The rest of the cast did not get in the way which is all that is required of them. Allessandro Corbelli was appropriately jolly as Sulpice. Felicity Palmer was appropriately stuffy as the Marquise Of Berkenfield. And Marian Seldes was appropriately tottering as the Duchess of Krakenthorp. I wonder if Krakenthorp has some extra meaning in French. Marco Amiliato conducted appropriately.
There were sets and costumes, but if you turned Mme Dessay loose on an empty stage with just a few props the performance would be just as successful as it was with sets and costumes. When she leaves this production there will be little reason to continue it.
I have been a Dessay fanatic since her Orphee aux Enfers dvd. Her Olympia in Hoffmann dancing with the giant dolls was incredible. Just as a guest performer in Fledermaus she got more applause than others in the entire operetta put together which included Mattila and Prey.
I also have 12 dvds of Fille including 2 of this production from Covent Garden and Austria. While the other sopranos are from good to excellent, the only one comparable to Natalie is Ruth Welting, having similar energy level, personality, and lots of extra high notes.
The second tenor aria “Pour me rapproche” is for me the most beautiful aria Donizetti ever wrote. I have an old video clip of Luca Canonici singing this far better than anyone else I’ve ever heard. While I admire Florez ability, I prefer a more sumptious sound.
I have converted some non opera people to elegant and coloratura singing with Natalie’s cd, Vocalises. A must for any canary fanciers.
hmmmm. Which presentation and which Juan Diego Florez did you see? It certainly wasn’t the one I did, via HD movie I have to admit, but as far as I know, and could tell, the transmission did little if anything to diminish the vocal skills of both Dessay and Florez. Couldn’t agree more about Dessay, couldn’t disagree more about Florez. At least, thank God, we have current tenors, sopranos, who look like and are of the age the characters they are, who act like their characters might, who don’t stand flagpole stiff and belt out their signature arias. Yes, Mr. Florez is a looker, has a lithe and loveable body type, but beyond that, he has a great gift in his instrument. I’ll take him ANY day over the forever ballyhooed Pavarotti, who sang too long and who had the acting sklls of a dust mop, plus looking like the “before” ad for Weight Watchers. Unfortunately, the laughable stereotype, no matter the high range and stentorian bellow of the voice. Of the two, in my opinion, Florez comes out the better. And, BTW, how about the 68-year-old Domingo and his “Adriana Lecouvreur”? Artistry, acting, taste, and common sense use of the voice all in one. Mr. Florez, and all other current aspiring tenors, should take note.