Review By David_L._Kirk,Fanfare,March 2007
The more I played this album the more I liked it. It won't erase memories of the French versions with Sutherland / Pavarotti, Sills / Grayson, Anderson / Kraus, or Gruberova / van der Walt; but it compares favorably with the Italian versions I've heard with Freni / Pavarotti and Freni / Kraus. It's a sprightly production. Donizetti' s martial music is given a jolly lilt and the tempos take a deep breath when needed to let the lyrical moments have their due. What bothered me initially was the sound. If the volume is low, the sound loses clarity, like listening to a performance in the lobby with the house doors closed. Raising the volume is like opening the doors; the recorded sound comes alive. The back liner tells us that this performance was "recorded live at Teatro Marrucino ...
At its Paris premiere as La fille du régiment the critics (especially Berlioz) were less than enthusiastic about the work, but audiences loved it. It was quickly translated into Italian, when the work, now La figlia del reggimento, spread its wings and became more popular than the French original.
Aside from language, the principal differences between the French and Italian versions of this opera were the use of recitative rather than spoken dialogue (in this production a piano is used for the recitative accompaniment and seems to be at some distance from the microphones), several of the names became Italianized (Marie to Maria, Sulpice to Sulpizio, Hotensius to Ortensio - but Tonio remained Tonio), and some textual deletions and alterations, especially for Tonio. Deleted was the romance and, more significant, there are cuts to the famous number with the high Cs. A new aria was prepared, but tenors were quick to reinstate the Cs and showed indifference to the new piece. Gradually the textual differences were reduced, although productions in both languages were often inflated by the inclusion of music to suit special occasions and to showcase the talents of demanding artists.
The French version has come back into its own, helped considerably by the famous Sutherland / Pavarotti production from the late 1960s. Tonio was a role ideally suited to Pavarotti's voice; the show-stopping first-act number, "Ah! Mes amis," earned him the title "King of the high Cs." He sang the role in both languages. So did Alfredo Kraus, and happily we have recordings of both tenors singing the role in both languages.
Giorgio Casciarri, the Tonio in this recording, reminds me of Alfredo Kraus. To my ears, the timbres of their voices are similar. He and soprano Maria Costanza Nocentini have light, lyrical voices that blend well together. Both have clear, firm top notes, and convey the youth and exuberance of newfound love with charm and élan. Casciarri's rendition of "Ah! Mes amis," now "Miei cari amici," is not likely to disappoint; Casciarri delivers all the high notes. Nocentini has plenty of coloratura bravado and comic sass. She begins the evening as the Regiment's resident tomboy, quickly melts into girlish first love raptures when confronted with Tonio, and in the second act plays the tomboy-put-in-a-dress awkwardness with wit and charm. The secondary characters, especially Milijana Nikolic as La Marchesa de Berkenfeld and Luciano Miotto as Sulpizio, create good comic characters that add to the fun of this performance. The attempt to give Maria a dose of culture in act II is a highlight.
I've only heard two other recordings of this opera in Italian, both recorded in performance. The Freni / Pavarotti is monophonic; the Freni / Kraus is digital stereo, but suffers from some over-saturation of the tape in a few spots, so I'd give this Naxos the sonic edge. The performances captured on the two Freni albums are quite good, but there is lots of spirit and merriment to enjoy on these Naxos discs as well. Librettos are not supplied with either of the Freni recordings, or with this new issue from Naxos; although Naxos does supply an Italian only text via their Web site; go to www.naxos.com/libretti/lafiglia.htm.