I haven't died or quit. I've been in Melbourne. Seeing, as it happens, a sixth and final performance of Arabella. About which more soonish, but for the moment I have a head full of Natalie.
This afternoon was the final in the series of Met in HD moviecasts, the one I was waiting for right from the start, the one which caused me to actually jump for joy when I read that it was coming — La fille du régiment with Natalie and Juan Diego. For all intents and purposes, my favourite soprano and my favourite tenor, and both of them jawdroppingly in their element. It was worth all the anticipation and about 99% of all the advance hype.
My only real difficulty was choosing with whom I should fall deepest in love. Natalie is outrageous and brilliant, a manic little powerhouse full of extraordinary talent and perfect comic timing. Juan Diego is preposterously adorable, just as charismatic as she is and gifted beyond all imagining. I was perhaps even more enchanted by him than by her — can you believe it? — simply because while my ecstatic response to the wonder of Natalie is pretty much a given, my experience of Juan Diego hasn't been quite so extensive. It never surprises me that Natalie is a knock out, it's what I expect; Juan Diego still has a few breathtaking thrills up his sleeve where I'm concerned. Naturally everyone went nuts for his "Pour mon âme" but it was his "Pour me rapprocher de Marie" which knocked me sideways, with the kind of legato likely to leave one in a puddle on the floor — and an interpolated D-flat to boot. We were told it was coming in the intermission interview:
Renée: Oh, I didn't know [there was a D-flat in that aria]!
JDF: Oh, of course is not written, but I put it.
Of course he does. And so he should.
What can I say about Natalie except that she's Natalie? Everything has been said, either by me or by the whole world. She's so fantastic it hurts. She throws her voice all over the place in the dialogue, only to shine and sparkle her way through her arias and ensembles. Her oddball Marie is the stuff of genius, and only she could pull it off so perfectly. Natalie wants a revolution in opera as theatre; whether you're joining her army or not, you have to admire the woman for at every moment practising what she preaches — she is the ideal poster girl for her own campaign. Her expressivity is astounding; she looks crestfallen, you feel it; she grins and it's utterly infectious. Having established herself as my favourite soprano, Natalie becomes one of my favourite actresses too.
This Fille could probably manage to be quite satisfactory if it was nothing beyond a vehicle for its two stars. But there's so much more. So much more. Laurent Pelly's production is playful and clever and I love it, from the war map sets to Marie's gravity defying ponytail to the inspired hilarity of Tonio's triumphant Act II entrance on a tank. And I love the detail of it — the potato Marie takes in Act I as a souvenir of the regiment, for instance, returns in Act II — but green, and growing roots. Pelly has created genuine comedy, the kind that doesn't force itself upon you but simply rolls along in its brilliant way and happens to be hilarious.
Felicity Palmer is just completely wonderful as the Marquise de Birkenfield, apparently relishing every moment of the role. Alessandro Corbelli's Sulpice looks to have stepped straight out of a propaganda poster; he's initially a bit grotesque, but that fades pretty quickly and by the end he's hard not to like, in a silly, rotund sort of a way. Donald Maxwell is a gorgeously haughty Hortensius. I adored them all. What joy to have a comic opera peopled entirely by such funny, funny performers who, almost incidentally, all sound great too. Marian Seldes has an appalling French accent but makes a suitably terrifying Duchesse de Krakenthorp.
This, like the Glyndebourne Giulio Cesare or the Arts Florissants Les Indes Galantes, is one of those productions which so bursting with wonderful stuff that I'm dying to share as much of it as I can — and yet I know, of course, that all the magic would lose its glitter in the telling. There's no describing such things; they need to be seen. So thank god/Peter Gelb for the HD broadcasts; otherwise we'd never have had the chance.