She may be turning 74 next week, but Montserrat Caballé isn't fading away into a quiet retirement. She was singing new roles at her hometown opera house (the Liceu in Barcelona) as recently as 2004, and she made yet another role debut this weekend — at the august Vienna State Opera, no less.
Sunday may have been April Fools' Day, but la Caballé wasn't kidding when she took to the stage that afternoon. Well, actually, she was kidding — because she was playing the Duchess of Krakenthorp, the non-singing cameo role in Donizetti's comedy La Fille du regiment.
"She was quite merry," our source in Vienna writes, "exchanging rapid-fire dialogue in French and German." And she did sing, as it turned out, tossing in a rendition of "G'Schätzli," a Swiss yodeling song that was always one of her favorite recital encores. She even made a joke about her longstanding reputation for canceling.
The production, directed by Laurent Pelly (and pictured below), was a roaring success, just as it was in London when the Royal Opera presented it in January. (It comes to the Met in April 2008.) The biggest cheers went, naturally, to the spectacularly charismatic duo in the leading roles, Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez (who are coming to the Met with the production).
As Tonio, Flórez — "adorable in his tight Lederhosen," says our source — nailed the nine high Cs in "Ah! mes amis" yet again. He didn't sing an encore, as he did at La Scala in February — but the audience stomped and cheered for well over three minutes. And the rest of his performance, according to the AP's George Jahn, "did not disappoint. His tenor was supple, powerful or tender — and right on, when later high notes lurked."
Then there was Dessay in the title role of Marie, a young foundling girl adopted and raised by a regiment of soldiers (and stuck with doing laundry for all of them). "Part Popeye, part Orphan Annie," wrote Jahn, "she laughed, mugged, cried and danced through her part ... And she sang. Oh, how she sang."
As Sergeant Sulpice, says our source, "[baritone] Carlos Álvarez was unrecognizable, and hysterical, in a fat suit and bald, with a Kaiser moustache." As the Marquise de Berkenfeld, the noblewoman who reclaims marie and tries to make her into a proper lady, Janina Baechle, the company's reigning Wagner mezzo, "did her role proud, both vocally and dramatically" (Jahn). Conductor Yves Abel led the Vienna State Opera Orchestra in a performance that got its own share of cheers.
La Fille du régiment receives further performances on April 4, 9, 12, 16, 19, 22, 25, 28 at the Vienna State Opera House; details are available at www.staatsoper.at.
And Doña Montserrat's birthday? It's April 12 (in case you want to send flowers).