While tor the extended "Pour mon ame" moment, Florez overshadowed current Met darling Natalie Dessay, there was never much doubt that this production is a socko two-star vehicle, just as it was in 1972 for Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland. Proof of Dessay's ability to retake the stage as she'd already been commanding it came directly following Florez's audience seduction, when she sang the doleful "Il faut partir" with the sort of deftly-placed pianissimos that produces a palpable hush throughout an auditorium.
Dessay, playing Marie, the supposed orphan whose "Papas" are all the members of a French Army outfit, hardly remains in a somber mood for much of the stage time. Adapting a heavy-footed, silent-screen-comic walk, Dessay gets her laughs throughout -- even when some of the comedy concerning her being torn from her beloved Tonio is just this side of forced. While purists may quibble over tones less silvery than some of her acclaimed predecessors in the role, she gives consistently worthy vocal accounts of herself -- often delivering her highest coloratura notes while being carried around horizontally.
When not reclining on the raised arms of all those Papas, Dessay may be found flopping to the ground, as she does in the second-act scene where the Marquise of Berkenfield (Felicity Palmer), has taken her to be educated and married off to the rich but never-seen Scipion, nephew to the Duchess of Krakenthorp (Marian Seldes in her non-singing, cane-wielding, yuk-inducing Met debut). This is the scene where soon-to-be-wed Marie is given a not completely obedient singing lesson by the Marquise, and Dessay's vocal hijinks when she keeps interpolating favored regimental ditties is yet another of her energetic comedy sequences.
As Marie and Tonio look as if they'll be parted forever but ultimate and predictably are spared that fate, Donizetti provides them and everyone -- including helpful Sergeant Sulpice (Alessandro Corbelli) -- with lilting melodies from which conductor Marco Armiliato entices every possible ounce of lilt. Dessay's "Chacun le sait" and "Salut a La France" are hearty, and the second-act Marie-Tonio-Sulpice reunion trio is not only ear-cotton-candy but, as staged by Pelly for maximum amusement, eye-cotton-candy as well.
Credit is due choreographer Laura Scozzi, who starts act two with four bored maids at work dusting and later leads a gaggle of aging wedding guests through a hilariously inebriated entrance. Rarely have so many dowagers and consorts doddered to pay-off comic effect. But everyone in the cast pays off, including Palmer and Corbelli, not to mention the male chorus as those doting surrogate dads. Chorus master Donald Palumbo has much to be proud of as he adds this achievement to the recent Satyagraha performances.
On the downside, Chantal Thomas' set leaves something to be desired. Although the mountains rising behind the regimental camp are out-sized maps turned on their sides and that's a clever notion, the first-act camp site itself is somewhat dull. Things are even odder in the second act, when the Marquise's drawing-room is revealed at a precarious angle, and characters insist on stepping down from it as if through a missing fourth wall.
Never mind. Whatever isn't going gloriously right with a presentation like this one fades in the context of so much that's so truly, joyously right.
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