To listen to a play
on the radio is to let your imagination
run free. Similarly when listening to
a studio recording of an opera, the
imagination can soar. So it can even
when listening to the recording of a
live production before an audience.
There are then potential constraints
on that imagination: whether audience
laughter at a visual joke, excessive
stage noises or variable vocal sound.
of timbre or voice of duettists is fundamental
to the CD listener who has only aural
distinction. The theatregoer can see
the many differences on stage. This
problem does not exist for the CD listener
fluent in the language of production
or for those with the libretto. However,
where no libretto is provided (as here)
or where you just want to listen and
not follow the libretto, all in not
On this recording Alessandro
Corbelli sings the title role whilst
Roberto de Candia sings Dr Malatesta.
The problem is that they do not have
a timbre noticeably distinct from each
other. Therefore in their duets, which
provide much of the early comic foundation,
I found it difficult to be certain who
was singing. Of course, as soon as I
had armed myself with the libretto all
such problems disappeared. Therefore
unless you have the libretto handy,
or have a very finely tuned ear, this
is a disadvantage of this recording.
Similar remarks apply
to the many ‘asides’. I have no doubt
that they were delivered "to"
the audience with the singer immediately
turning back to the events on stage:
but when sung exactly as the rest of
the recitative, then, without the visual
aid or the libretto it is impossible
to appreciate them.
Those I regard as the
downsides to this recording. Now let
me turn to the upsides: not least of
which is the immediacy of sound and
the feeling of ‘being there’. Curiously
on this recording the sound of stage
movement is not obtrusive.
The overture sets the
bel canto scene with some seriously
good lyrical playing paced well with
good dynamics. Indeed by the end there
is an almost urgent need for foot tapping.
Don Pasquale is strongly
characterised by Corbelli. He manages
to invoke precisely what Donizetti intended
to achieve: laughter at his folly and
sympathy for his consequent predicament.
It is a fine line which Corbelli treads
faultlessly. Un foco insolito is
delivered with excellent self-delusion:
here is a live production advantage
as we hear him walk about the stage
looking forward to rejuvenation by marriage.
If his duets with de
Candia leave something to be desired
then his scenes with both Siragusa (Ernesto)
and Mei (Norina) make up for it.
sharp timbred tenor leaves us in no
doubt that here is Ernesto the lyrical
love struck swain of true bel canto
genre. If his early disbelief at Pasquale’s
impending marriage is delivered with
little scorn, humour or ridicule, nothing
holds him down for his lyrical flights.
And when that is combined with the grumpy
Pasquale in the background during Prender
moglie?, the effect is delightful.
The scene continues into Due parole
where, against excellent orchestral
pacing, they each review their own position:
tenor colouring, style and heartache
against bass self-righteous fulmination
– great fun.
Of course Sinagusa
comes into his own at the start of Act
II. Whilst the singing is clear and
controlled with good dynamics and pacing
I was not entirely convinced that his
characterisation aroused my sympathy.
However his last Act Com’è
gentil was all persuasive – even
if delivered too distant from a microphone
– so persuasive indeed that I found
myself humming it several days later.
Norina – or Sofronia
– is a ‘gift’ of a role for Eva Mei,
who, like Corbelli, has sung it many
times before. If I have a reservation
about her singing it is that she has
become a little hard-edged when being
forceful ‘on high’. Otherwise she demonstrate
well her experience of the work. Her
opening reading of the romantic novel
emphasises the delightful irony, with
vocal melodrama and later some splendid
almost floated notes. She combines well
with de Candia to bring off the ‘convent
girl’ unworldly simplicity - as she
does with Corbelli. Here is excellent
vocal acting each drawing strength from
She moves convincingly
in ensnaring Corbelli into matrimony
and then becomes not a simple shrew
but ‘a shrew with a heart’ as Donizetti
intended. After the (in)famous slap
there is true tenderness in É
duretta la lezione (following
Ah! è finita)with very
smooth modulation to the unanticipated
keys. This is an enjoyable performance
by Mei with some superbly delivered
middle-note–hitting runs and trills.
I often think of Dr
Malatesta in the same terms as Dr Falke.
Whilst Falke is bent on entertaining
revenge, Malatesta’s intent is to show
his old friend the folly of his intent.
Each is master of the plot if not master
of ceremonies. Sadly I do not think
de Candia brings this off. There is
little boisterous involvement. The description
of his ‘sister’ in Bella siccome
would not have Don Pasquale quivering
with expectation: there is no frisson
of excitement. Similarly his involvement
in Norina’s lesson seems somewhat flat.
Conversely his reading of Ernesto’s
letter is full of expression, even entertaining
exaggeration, and when he sings in the
duets and ensembles he is a committed
Indeed in the ensembles
the totality may well be greater than
the sum of the parts. Whilst I have
a reservation about ‘togetherness’ in
the high speed patter song in Act III
(de Candia and Corbelli), the duets
and ensembles are a strong feature of
this CD. I enjoyed particularly the
trio in Act II cued to start at Via,
da brava (de Candia, Mei and Corbelli)
and the last scene of that Act (all
four lead soloists). That is save for
the last high note of Mei’s which does
not appear on some other recordings.
That ensemble is an excellent example
of the very good balance maintained
almost throughout between orchestra
The additional small
part of the Notary (sung at the first
production by Federico Lablache, the
son of Luigi Lablache who sang the title
role) sung here by Giorgio Gatti gives
little opportunity for characterisation.
There is little time to appreciate Gatti’s
The choral role is
also small. They feature in two scenes
and appear in a third. Good vocal precision
and expression with some excellent dynamics
make a very positive contribution. A
small role but one very well discharged.
As I have said, the
accompanying booklet does not contain
the libretto. There is a helpful synopsis
and a discourse on the relevance of
the Commedia dell’arte to this opera.
What I would particularly commend is
the success in putting Acts I and II
on the first CD with Act III on the
second. This has the enormous advantage
of enabling the whole of Act II to be
heard as a fluid continuous piece.