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Donizetti, La Fille du Régiment, Patrizia Ciofi, Juan Diego Flórez, Teatro Carlo Felice, Riccardo Frizza (released on October 10, 2006)
Then Flórez sang the role at La Scala and, as covered by Opera Chic in Milan, gave the first encore during a staged opera since Toscanini banned the practice for reasons of dramatic continuity. (Opera Chic even has sound files.) In an interview with Patrick Cole for Bloomberg News, Flórez recalls that evening: "So after the aria, the applause was very, very long, and people were shouting 'bis, bis', just as I had expected and they didn't stop. So I did the encore. The next day, I saw in the newspapers that no one had made an encore since 1933. I didn't know that!"
Juan Diego Flórez, Ah! mes amis (Genoa, 2005)
Before either of those performances there was this production at the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa, created by Emilio Sagi for the Teatro Comunale di Bologna. It was recorded live in 2005 and released this past fall. The performance is most valuable for capturing Flórez at his best in this role. The most famous aria, Ah! mes amis in Act I, has those nine infamous high C's just about as perfect as they could be, all lined up and pure. The crowd went wild, shouting "Bis, bis," and Flórez sang the second part of the aria (Pour mon âme) a second time, just as flawlessly. If that is not enough, he also sings an excellent high D in the Act II romance Pour me rapprocher de Marie. It is a stellar performance, which he has been recreating in other theaters.
Juan Diego Flórez, Encore (!) of Pour mon âme (Genoa, 2005)
The rest of the cast is also fine. Soprano Patrizia Ciofi gives very good renditions of Marie's regimental song and Il faut partir, the beautiful aria at the end of Act I. Ciofi's contribution to the Act II comic trio Le jour naissait dans le bocage is hilarious, too, as she sings so horribly out of tune (Marie chafes at being civilized in the Marquise's home) that it's just ghastly. The video relies too heavily on closeups, which does none of the singers any favors: Flórez with his cheesy mustache and especially Ciofi with her bizarre grimaces and crooked smile. Nicola Ulivieri and Francesca Franci are also good as Sulpice and La Marquise de Berkenfield, respectively.
The production, which updates the action from the Napoleonic Wars to the liberation of France by the American Army at the end of World War II, does not make much sense but does not detract from one's enjoyment. I am screening it right now for one of my classes, whom I will chaperone to the dress rehearsal of this opera on Thursday night. The production has required some explaining, but not too much. In a supplemental disc, which the class will likely also enjoy, Patrizia Ciofi narrates her role, and we see footage of the rehearsals, often seamlessly joined to the same scene in the DVD.
Juan Diego Flórez sang in The Barber of Seville at the Met this month (I heard it via Sirius) -- Lawrence Brownlee will replace him in the April/May performances. Americans will have to wait until next season, when Dessay and Flórez are scheduled to sing La Fille du Régiment again, at the Met in April 2008.
Washington National Opera has decided to mount La Fille du Régiment this season, in the production shown in this DVD (although the packaging, showing two actors in Napoleonic costumes, has not indicated that) and with the same conductor, Riccardo Frizza. It will be without Flórez, however, who last appeared in Washington in L'Italiana in Algeri last season. WNO has mounted Fille twice before, in 1986 and 1993, and the original idea may have been to bring this production to Washington with Flórez. Flórez will be singing Tonio this month, but at the Vienna Staatsoper (opening on March 31, the same as Washington's opening night, through April 28). It looks like Vienna won out. If Flórez were in the WNO cast, one can be sure that all, or at least some, of the performances would be sold out, which is not the case right now.