Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bravo, bravo, Don Pasquale, la morale è molto bella

John del Carlo in the title role
(c) Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
Had I been actively seeking an antidote to late winter doldrums, I could have done no better than the final afternoon of Donizetti's Don Pasquale at the Met.  In the hands of the delightful cast, it becomes a gentle, affectionate send-up of Italian operatic conventions, as I suspect Donizetti intended in 1849.  In support of my thesis that Donizetti meant the joke, I cite the dramatis personae, which after listing the four principals says merely - A Notary.  All you need to know is that there will be a notary.  He is, of course, not a notary at all, but Malatesta's cousin, and I suspect he wore Danielle de Niese's notary outfit from Così fan tutte.  Typically demure soprano virtues are catalogued and then parodied wildly in the person of the feisty Norina, the tenor is not the most intelligent young man in the world but takes himself very seriously, the baritone is suave, and the bass doesn't know what's going on.  I am not entirely sure that Otto Schenk's production, an Italian idyll awash in Mediterranean pinks and golds and shabby charm, is in on the joke.  But it works as part of it.

I presumed that the ominous front-of-curtain appearance of a man in a suit was merely to echo the slips in our programs which said Anna Netrebko was indisposed.  No: Joseph Colaneri would be conducting; James Levine was ill.  Colaneri's reading of the score was bright and sprightly; there were a few issues of balance at the outset, but the orchestra was allowed to shine, and they performed with their customary excellence (I love you, cellos!)  The chorus didn't have a great deal to do, but they milled, tidied, and pronounced dolefully on the topsy-turvy household with great aplomb.  Regarding the principals, I have to add my voice to the universal acclaim they've garnered.

I suspect that John Del Carlo, in the title role, may have been slightly fatigued, as he was frequently drowned by the orchestra in the first scene.  Whether he needed to warm up, or Colaneri needed to adjust his forces, things were soon improved.   His navigation of rapid patter was impressive, diction clear and vocally secure enough to be really communicative and not merely a matter of getting through the notes.  Del Carlo's characterization was assured, avoiding caricature in the portrayal of "an aging bachelor in the old style, frugal, credulous, obstinate, but fundamentally a good man."  His fussy manners and use of falsetto both drew abundant laughter from the audience.  His attitude towards Ernesto, and even towards the havoc of luxury purchases created by Norina, established Don Pasquale as having a healthy sense of humor which made the finale credible. Mariusz Kwiecien might have, by a slight margin, my vote for best all-around performance.  He was warm and mellifluous of voice, and sang stylishly throughout, navigating comic patter and persuasive lyricism with equal aplomb.  He also cut a very dapper figure, complete with dandy's cane and covetable cape, his suave confidence and amiability perfect for Malatesta.  Here the Pasquale/Malatesta duet, "Cheti, cheti immantinente":

Matthew Polenzani seems to finally be enjoying the breakthrough into leading roles that edda at Dich, Teure Halle has long argued that he deserves.  I enjoyed his elegant Alfredo last month, but he seemed more comfortable in the role of Ernesto, and the music displayed his lovely tone and gift for lyric line to excellent effect.  Go here for "Sogno soave e casto" from the November run.  His characterization of Ernesto may not have been particularly subtle, but it was likable.  Australian soprano Rachelle Durkin, substituting for the indisposed Netrebko, did a remarkable job.  Her lyric soprano is clean, clear, and focused, and she used it well.  At the outset of her first scene she sounded ever so slightly strained, but the sound soon warmed up and relaxed.  Durkin displayed great vocal agility, but also sweetness in the irresistible "Tornami a dir."  Especially praiseworthy under the circumstances was how comfortable she seemed on stage, using space fearlessly, whether dancing around her rooftop garden or throwing a tantrum.  She also played the comic possibilities of the role to the hilt.  Plaudits to her and her colleagues for her successful integration into a production dependent for much of its delight on the excellent chemistry among all the principals, who appeared to be having as good a time as the audience.


  1. here you can listen to Don Pasquale for a few days.

    it is this performance with R.Durkin:-)

  2. @asperias Thanks for sharing the link! Is there a central site where you find information about opera broadcast on radio/livestream, or are you just diligently well-informed?

  3. Love this opera: I saw a production of it in SLC a few years back that set the whole thing in the Wild West, complete with Ernesto's aria in a bathtub and a mariacchi band accompanying the "Come gentil". I haven't laughed so hard at an opera since. I agree that Donizetti was making a huge joke of the whole convention.

  4. We were delighted by the performance! We traveled all the way from Illinois to see Ms Netrebko and Maestro Levin, so were initally disappointed, but Ms Durkin quickly changed our attitude. Well done!

  5. @Christie That sounds like fun! Poor Ernesto. Polenzani did the serenade off-stage, as written, with plucked guitars. Find idea of mariachi band irresistibly hilarious, though.

    @Lisa I'm so glad to hear it! I had first-time opera-goer friends up from D.C., and was also very pleased/relieved by the quality of Ms. Durkin's performance. I'm sorry you missed Levine... his health has been so sadly precarious, but when I have gotten to hear his work on the podium in recent months, it's been great. Hope you enjoyed your time in New York!

  6. I'm glad you enjoyed. Unfortunate that Trebs bailed on you - apparantely she went to Wien for the Figaro premiere - which she could well have missed but then I suppose she had a personal interest and Schrott was the best part of a disappointing show.

  7. i follow a few pages , like bbc3, or recently the orf radio and france musique - here is link to a simon keenlyside concert

    here is traviata - kaufmann, hvorostovsky, netrebko (for a few more days available)

    here i hope still is fidelio with Kaufmann:-)

    i put links on my blog sometimes.

  8. @marcillac Unfortunate and mysterious - doctor's orders have been mentioned. Still, Durkin consoled me, and she really was hilarious, in addition to singing the role well.

    @asperias Thanks for the links. Posting isn't a bad idea - maybe "how to find opera on the internet" will be a future entry (with suitable acknowledgements of course!)

  9. lucy:
    what is even better, there are some pages where you can listen to an audio not only once in live transmission, but for a few days. For example the bbc3 web, france musique, or this austrian orf radio web:-)
    or i discovered this web, there are rare operas on it, i don´t know even their names:-)


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