Florez wows crowd at Met with 18 high Cs

April 22, 2008 7:50:57 AM PDT
Rewarding a rare encore with an even rarer standing ovation in midperformance, a rapturous Metropolitan Opera audience hailed the company's beguiling new production of Donizetti's comic gem, "La Fille du Regiment" ("The Daughter of the Regiment").

It was Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez as the lovesick Tonio who brought the crowd to its feet late in Act 1 on Monday night by sailing with ease through the nine high Cs in the aria, "Pour mon ame" - and then singing it a second time.

But at the end of the evening the cheers rang out equally for him and his co-star, French soprano Natalie Dessay, who sang the role of Marie, the tomboy title character, with sparkling coloratura and the timing of a gifted clown.

There was much else to cheer about in the production directed by Laurent Pelly, which milks the slapstick humor in the frothy plot while allowing the genuine sentiment to shine through. The production, which updates the action from Napoleonic times to World War I, was a sensation when it premiered last season at London's Covent Garden and later when it played Vienna. It's already a hit here as well - all eight performances are sold out.

Florez, whose agility and elegance in the lighter bel canto repertory are unsurpassed among today's singers, was rock-solid as he punched out those high Cs (Donizetti actually wrote only eight, but tenors can't resist adding one more). When he finished with the encore, he looked as if he could easily have done it a third time. Yet for sheer beauty of tone, he surpassed himself in his Act 2 aria, "Pour me rapprocher de Marie," when he sings of his love for Marie and his sadness at the prospect of losing her.

Dessay was a marvel as she cavorted with the soldiers in the regiment, scampering around the set and even tossing off an aria while ironing their clothes. In Act 2, whisked away to a life of luxury and forced to abandon her trousers and suspenders, she looked unhappily demure in a pale blue dress. And she gave hilarious expression to her exasperation in the lesson scene, resisting attempts to teach her a fashionable aria by repeatedly reverting to a military song.

Together the stars displayed a charming chemistry that made the inevitable happy ending all the more satisfying.

They were ably supported by baritone Alessandro Corbelli as the sympathetic Sergeant Sulpice; mezzo Felicity Palmer as the Marquise of Berkenfield, and actress Marian Seldes in the speaking role of the snobbish Duchess of Krakenthorp.

Marco Armiliato led the orchestra in a buoyant performance of the tuneful score.

Flores' encore was apparently the first for a solo performer at the Met since Luciano Pavarotti repeated the aria "E lucevan le stelle" in Act 3 of Puccini's "Tosca" in 1994. And it's practically unheard of for the audience to rise to its feet in the middle of a performance.

"La Fille," first performed in Paris in 1840, has had a checkered history at the Met in recent years. In 1972, a new production starring soprano Joan Sutherland turned the young Pavarotti into a superstar when he astounded the audience with the visceral impact of his nine high Cs. But when he tried to reprise the role in 1995, he had to transpose the aria down a half-tone and even then had trouble hitting the notes.

It's also the opera that led former Met general manager Joe Volpe to fire soprano Kathleen Battle for bad behavior during rehearsals in 1994.

What a season Dessay has had at the Met! She sang on opening night in "Lucia di Lammermoor," a Donizetti opera as lugubrious as "La Fille" is joyous. And she proved every bit as riveting a performer in tragedy as she is in comedy.

She and Florez will be back next year in an eagerly awaited new production of another bel canto work, Bellini's "La Sonnambula."

Load Comments