Other reviewers have - rightly - heaped praise on this DVD and there is no point in repeating all of that. I would like, however, to add a few additional comments.
Firstly, the composer. Most people who have got this far on the Amazon site will know pretty much what they are looking for, but for the benefit of those who have stumbled across this recording by chance, Donizetti was a composer who died in 1848, age 50. During his lifetime he composed no less than 75 operas, a fair number of which are still performed more or less regularly, not to mention more than a dozen string quartets and other chamber music, and orchestral and and choral works.
In my old copy of the Oxford Dictionary of Music the composer is said to have "thoroughly understood the human voice and had an ear for a good tune." Such a patronising put-down is perhaps not surprising, as quite a lot of music lovers and musicians have a poor opinion of the bel canto style. Thankfully, these days there are not as many of them as there were fifty years ago.
Given such a prodigious output (always viewed with suspicion by some; but hey, what about Mozart and Schubert?) it is perhaps not surprising that Donizetti is sometimes accused of being formulaic. To be sure, those who have heard some of his other operas will feel on familiar territory with his orchestral writing, but then it is the voices which are the focus of attention, not the orchestra. And those who think that beautiful, sometimes florid, melodic lines and deep emotion cannot go together should listen to Tonio and Marie in the second act when they think their hopes of happiness will be dashed. Each has a most beautiful aria to sing but, as well as ravishing the ear, they express a poignancy no less than that which a Verdi or a Puccini might achieve in similar circumstances.
As for the plot: well, it is straightforward enough and anyone who hasn't worked out in the first fifteen minutes or so what is going to happen can't have been paying attention. But it's OK.
The sets are fine: they are not naturalistic but they don't distract from the action. As for the costumes - well, they are very broadly first world war-ish. But, when first seen, Tonio (Juan Diego Florez) looks as if he has just stepped out of a 1930s musical comedy. The props are equally varied, including some very late twentieth items. And Tonio's transport in the second act has to be seen to be believed! But this is quite deliberate and the crashing anachronisms - there are one or two in the spoken dialogue as well - enhance rather than detract.
I first saw this production when it was broadcast on BBC4 a couple of years ago. It had an introduction from Dawn French which is not, sadly, on this DVD. In it she observed that it is (or was) twenty years since the last time that Covent Garden put on "La Fille" and this is at least in part due to the difficulty of getting singers who can cope with the extreme technical demands of the two leading roles. As others have said, though, the parts hold no fears for Florez and Dessay who acquit themselves magnificently. Tonio's famous showstopper "Ah, mes amis" notoriously contains nine top Cs, and in this, as elsewhere, Florez is superb. And as Dawn French said in the intro to which I referred, he also looks like an operatic hero (or, in her words, "drop-dead gorgeous"!). Dessay is equally good vocally in her demanding part whilst, at the same time, as others have commented, throwing herself about all over the stage. All of the other parts, and the chorus, are acted and sung to an equally high standard.
Criticisms? The only ones which I have are very minor indeed. This is a film of a live performance and as such the cast are acting (and the acting is good) for the audience rather than the camera. Consequently the gestures and facial expressions (especially those of Felicity Palmer) sometimes seem a bit exaggerated on the small screen. And towards the end of the second act Florez momentarily forgets that he is supposed to be speaking in French, not Italian. But that's about it.
My final word, though, must be about Natalie Dessay. Although she was over 40 when this performance was recorded she is utterly convincing as a feisty young girl of less than half that age. If ever it could be said that an artist was born to play a particular part, it could be said that Natalie must have been born to play Marie.
Amazon have recently raised the price of this DVD but even so it is worth every single penny. Order it NOW!!!