Donizetti called La Fille du Régiment an opéra comique. The label does not translate as vulgar cartoon, but one would not have guessed that on Monday at the Met.
Laurent Pelly’s 2008 production, faithfully reheated by Christian Räth, ignores the lyricism, the introspection and the romantic sentiment in the score and concentrates instead on would-be-funny business. Non-stop. The result is mildly amusing for about 10 minutes. Unfortunately, the creaky slapstick exercise runs – also bumps, grinds, lumbers and limps – for nearly three hours. Chantal Thomas’s super-stylised sets reinforce the flip and fussy contradictions.
Under these circumstances Yves Abel, the new conductor, cannot do much to make us take the lovely score seriously. Complicating matters, his beat tends to be a bit flabby.
When we first encountered this mess, there were a few redeeming distractions. Natalie Dessay played the heroine with a trace of Gallic charm that occasionally mitigated caricature indulgence. Juan Diego Flórez, bel-cantist par excellence, played her suitor with artful bonhomie and nonchalantly popped out the nine notorious top Cs of his big aria.
The current pair doesn’t quite function in the same league. Nino Machaidze of Tbilisi, Georgia, mugged conscientiously as Pelly’s obnoxious tomboy, and sang all the difficult notes, mostly on pitch. She seemed tough rather than vulnerable, however, and her should-be sparkling coloratura emerged shrill and brassy.
Lawrence Brownlee as the heroic Tonio attacked the vocal stratosphere fearlessly. His tenor seemed a bit raspy under pressure, however, and he apparently confused clowning with character creation.
Ann Murray introduced an eloquently supercilious Marquise de Berkenfield, seconded by James Courtney’s elegantly befuddled Hortensius. Maurizio Muraro brought a sweet semblance of restraint to the basso-buffo routines of Sulpice. Kiri Te Kanawa tried shamelessly to make the incidental cameo of the Duchess of Krakenthorp a star turn (once a diva, always a diva).
Even with a few trims, the spoken dialogues threatened to go on forever, or longer. Although idiomatic diction was scarce, some of the talk sounded like French.