Don Pasquale – Dramma buffa in three Acts with a libretto completed largely by Giovanni Ruffini as well as the composer, itself based on a libretto by Angelo Anelli for Stefano Pavesi’s opera Ser Marcantonio
Don Pasquale – Bryn Terfel
Ernesto – Ioan Hotea
Doctor Malatesta – Markus Werba
Norina – Olga Peretyatko
A notary – Bryan Secombe
Royal Opera Chorus
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Damiano Micheletto – Director
Gilles Rico – Associate director
Paolo Fantin – Set design
Agostino Cavalca – Costume design
Alessandro Carletti – Lighting design
Rocafilm [Roland Horvath & Carmen Zimmerman] – Video design
Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell
Reviewed: 14 October, 2019
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
Donizetti’s Don Pasquale was an instant success at its premiere in the mid-19th century, and hasremained one of the more popular works of the comic Donizetti canon, for the music hasgreat charm and invention, and offers super opportunities for the four principals who carrymost of the action. Rather as with Mozart’s Cosí fan tutte, modern-day sensibilities can introduce adistinctly bitter taste to proceedings, for the younger characters can be seen to bepremeditatedly ganging-up on the elderly Don Pasquale, his ownmisguided, manipulative and vengeful side notwithstanding. The characters do outline the morals ofthe story at the end. Some of the best comedy is often or always atsomeone’s expense and that the darker side of human nature shown should be tempered with someemotional truth. Critical, therefore, to the success of any performance is whether this latter elementemerges with enough force to provide that balance. The pivotal moment here is the momentwhere Norina slaps Don Pasquale about the face in the early stages of the third Act – a shockingjuncture that also suspends the musical action. Here you need to feel a sense of outrage for him butsimultaneously note that she has misgivings about her actions and some sympathy for him. InDamiano Micheletto’s staging we get this twice. Yes, twice. For during the scene where the‘servants’ comment on the antics within the Pasquale household we are treated to a reprise of themoment using ventriloquist puppets costumed as the principals, the whole projected inmagnification onto a back screen. With the puppets you hear the slap; it is funnier and far moredisturbing than the ‘real’ version where the audible element of the brief assault is muted (Norinawears gloves) and there is greater reliance on the music for the emotional steer. Elsewhere there areother good directorial touches such as some slapstick business as Don Pasquale dresses to makehimself look younger.
The idea of Norina as a wannabe ‘luvvie’ working in a rather more menial rolefor a company producing promotional fashion films works too, much aided by Olga Peretyatko’swinsomely knowing facial expressions even whilst singing the florid music. Similarly, the re-designed Pasquale residence depicted as a show-home for the aspirational is a clever touch.Paolo Fantin’s fluid, stylised wall-free sets detail the environment and its transformation well, with anice coup de théâtre at the opening of the third Act. Alas, the use of bright, focussed lights on themany reflective materials used such as glass, polished chrome and mirrors means that some in theaudience will find themselves blinded by the glare on occasions.
Musically, the evening is in the deft hands of Evelino Pidò, who once again demonstrates hisunderstanding of Donizetti’s style, musical wit and sensitivity. The vivacious moments of the scorehave infectious lightness and sprung variations of pace whilst the more emotionally laden melodiesget their due. This is evident from the Overture where autumnally mellow cellos, bassoon, horns anddeliciously watery trumpets in the slow music contrast with the brilliance of the dance-like tunes.
Vocally, the evening is a tad mixed. Bryn Terfel, in sappy voice and ever attentive to colouring andenunciation of words, gives an interesting interpretation of Don Pasquale; not always likeable as acharacter but full of human foible. Best is the moment of uncomprehending bewilderment just postNorina’s slap – wonderfully and movingly sung. The vital ebullience of the patter singing of thePasquale Malatesta duet is certainly there too. One suspects this portrayal will develop fascinatinglyas his Falstaff did. As aforementioned, Olga Peretyatko’s Norina is comically engaging, although thegenuine sensitivity of the lady doesn’t emerge as strongly as it could. Vocally she is more than up tothe showy technical coloratura challenges of the role, her relaxed, chirpy, bright soprano soundingeffortlessly well in the auditorium in an auspicious house debut. Her rather geeky Ernesto, theRomanian tenor Ioan Hotea is vocally better suited to the earlier, more desolate moments of hisjourney than the comic interruption of the Act Two finale or the melting lyricism of his serenade.Unfairly, he isn’t helped by having to sing the latter offstage. Perhaps first-night nerves led him tosound slightly stretched. Markus Werba’s Malatesta is curiously restrained for the organiser of thecharade, and his over-emphatic delivery sometimes made the vocal line sound very choppy at times.It’s an attractive and virile voice, but overall more suavity and presence are needed. The choruswere good in their brief moments as was Bryan Secombe’s Notary cameo.
- Further performances on 18, 21, 24, 26 (mat), 30 October and 2 November