When is a writer not a writer? When she's transformed into a screaming schoolgirl going nuts over a favourite tenor. Sorry to keep on and on about this guy, folks, but seriously, when Juan Diego Florez opens his mouth and that voice hits the high notes....I don't think I was the only person in Covent Garden last night whose heart hit the stratospheres with it. It's like someone striking the jackpot full on, the centredness, the perfection, and if there's one thing better than the high notes it's the velvet legato, the softness, the beauty of line...
As you'll have gathered, I finally made it to La fille du regiment at Covent Garden yesterday. If there was a ticket left for the rest of the run, I'd say go and see it, but the place is booked solid. And what an evening it is - not just Florez. In fact, the show really belongs to the French soprano Natalie Dessay, whose bell-like voice seems a near-perfect partner for Florez's and whose sparkle, intelligence, spirit and ability not only to hit the high notes but to hit them while being hoisted into the air on her side all add up to a humungous performance which ought to ensure her superstar status from now on.
The production by Laurent Pelly is like prosecco, fizzing, light and fresh, full of clever touches and brilliant characterisation. Dessay's foul-mouthed Marie, complete with a stubborn, sticky-out auburn pigtail, stomps about like one of the lads as she irons the longjohns and peels the potatoes, dropping a spud in shock when Tonio declares his love, then melting into ecstasy behind him as he sings, but only as long as he can't see her. Her singing lesson in the second act is a terrific highlight, with all that virtuosity gradually transformed into a prime tantrum. Felicity Palmer as the Marquise de Birkenfield strides about with her fox-fur intimidating everyone in act one, only to turn into a quivering heap of jelly when faced with one person more indomitable than herself: the Duchesse de Krakenthorp, a.k.a. Dawn French (no, she doesn't sing), whose English asides - translated into French in the surtitles - had immortal moments all their own. 'Sweetheart, don't be stingy with the chocolate fountains...' Alessandro Corbelli, as Marie's surrogate father (at least, the lead daddy out of 1500), is one of the great comic baritones of today's opera world. And as the end approaches, just when you think you've seen it all, Florez arrives to rescue Marie, on a tank. I've been trying to think how it could possibly have been any better. It couldn't.
A little message for director Tonys Pappano and Hall at the ROH: what about Comte Ory with Dessay and Florez next?
And now for something completely different: here's my latest piece for today's Indy. Ochin priatna, Maestro Gergiev, and welcome to the LSO!