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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Don Pasquale - dramma buffo in three acts (1843)
Libretto by Giovanni Ruffini and Gaetano Donizetti.
First performed: Théâtre Italien, Paris, 3 January 1843
Don Pasquale, an elderly well-off bachelor, Alfredo Mariotti (bass); Ernesto, ardent but impecunious suitor of Norina, Ugo Benelli (ten); Norina, an impulsive, but sensitive, young widow, Anna Maccianti (sop); Doctor Malatesta, extremely resourceful and jocular doctor, friend of Pasquale and closer friend of Ernesto, Mario Basiola (bar)
Chorus and orchestra of the Maggio Musicale, Florence, Italy/Ettore Gracis
rec. Teatro Communale, Florence, Italy. October 1964
Il campanello di notte - comic operas in one act (1836).
Libretto by the composer
Don Annibale Pistacchio, an apothecary, Alfredo Mariotti (bass); Serafina, Annibale’s bride, Emma Bruno de Sanctis (sop); Madama Rosa, Serafina’s mother and Enrico’s aunt, Flora Raffanelli (mezzo); Enrico, a gay young blood, Alberto Rinaldi (bar); Spiridione, Annibale’s servant, Mario Guggio (ten)
Chorus and orchestra of the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, Italy/Ettore Gracis
rec. La Teatro Fenice, Venice. October 1964
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON OPERA HOUSE SERIES 477 5631 [81.03 + 77.16]

 



Don Pasquale
is among the last of Donizetti’s sixty-six completed operas. After the successful premiere of Linda di Chamounix in Vienna in May 1842 (see review). Donizetti made his way to Milan, hoping to get a new libretto for a comic opera for Paris. He actually started on a work called ‘Ne m’oubliez pas’ (do not forget me) before abandoning it when he got the commission to write a comic opera for the Théâtre Italien. Giovanni Ruffini, an Italian political exile living in Paris, wrote the libretto based on a previous opera by Pavesi. Donizetti was not happy with Ruffini’s verses and made changes of his own to the extent that his librettist refused to attach his name to the printed libretto. The composer also had problems with the singers, particularly Antonio Tamberini, the carded Malatesta, who insisted on the role being enlarged at the expense of the title role to be sung by the redoubtable Luigi Lablache. In the end Donizetti boasted that he composed the work in a mere eleven days. Certainly the music has pace and fleet felicity of melodic invention. The opera was a resounding success and within months was produced all over Europe reaching America in January 1845. Don Pasquale, if not quite the equal of L’Elisir d’Amore and Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, is one of the three most popular Italian comic operas.

As befits its status, Don Pasquale was recorded in the early electric recording days with Tito Schipa as Ernesto, a favourite role (EMI). In more recent years a 1982 Kingsway Hall recording conducted by Riccardo Muti has dominated (EMI). It features Mirella Freni as a full-toned but flexible Norina, Gösta Winbergh as a mellifluous Ernesto; Leo Nucci and Sesto Bruscantini manoeuvre and spark patter off each other as Pasquale and Malatesta. The Muti performance lasts 122 minutes, even with the conductor’s brisk tempi, compared with the 106 more leisurely minutes on this DG issue. The difference is due to standard theatre cuts plus other abbreviations, presumably to allow 52 minutes of the comic Il campanello di notte to complete two well-filled CDs.

Apart from the leisurely conducting of Ettore Gracis (CD 1 tr. 1) the only common casting between the recordings, made in different Italian provincial theatres in the same month, is that of the bass Alfredo Mariotti. His rather gritty but strong voice is heard as Don Pasquale and also as the apothecary in Il campanello di notte. His voice is easily distinguishable from Mario Basiola as Malatesta in the first opera and Alberto Rinaldi in the second. Mariotti and Basiola patter as only native Italians can in Cheti, cheti and Aspetta, aspetta, cara sposina (CD 2 trs 5-6) where they are well supported by the conductor. As Norina I found Anna Maccianti’s quick vibrato and rather thin tweety tone a drawback, although she has a nice trill (CD 1 trs. 8-9). The real vocal star of this Don Pasquale is Ugo Benelli as Ernesto. From his opening recitative and duet with Pasquale (CD 1 trs. 5-6) via an elegantly phrased rendition of Com’e gentil (CD 2 tr. 8), his contribution exudes vocal taste and class. His tone and phrasing are ideally weighted whilst his legato and variety of colour and expression are excellent.

Il campanello di notte is Donizetti’s forty-sixth opera. It was the first of a duo of one-act comedies the composer wrote to his own verses in June and August 1836. Both were well received. Il campanello is a typical buffa comedy with more situations than plot. It concerns the marriage of Don Annibale Pistacchio, an apothecary, to the young Serafina who is loved by her cousin Enrico who she has forsaken because of his womanising. Under Naples law, a pharmacist was required to prescribe whatever medicines were required at whatever hour of the day or night. In order to thwart the consummation of the marriage, the jealous Enrico turns up throughout the marriage night in varying disguises, rings the apothecary’s bell (Il campanello) and demands treatment for himself or an imaginary wife.

Whilst there is no singer of Ugo Benelli’s class in this performance of Il campanello di notte, neither are there any duffers. As Don Annibale Alfredo Mariotti sings strongly (CD 2 trs. 12-13) as does the baritone Alberto Rinaldo as the devious Enrico (CD 2 trs. 15 and 17). Their duet Mi signore venerato! (CD 2 tr. 21) with its quick patter singing is a highlight of the work and this performance. Average provincial Italian singers sing Serafina and her mother. Native Italians, fully conversant with the nuances of the language, relishing the humour of the words and marrying them to the music, are the strengths of both these performances.

In both operas the recording places the singers well forward in a rather dry acoustic that enables the excellent diction of the singers to shine out. By the most modern standards the recording lacks some presence and atmosphere. Personally I prefer that to the approach on the over-egged contemporaneous Decca recording of Don Pasquale conducted by Istvan Kertész (not currently available). With the Sony recording of Il campanello di notte with Agnes Baltsa as Serafina and Enzo Dara as the apothecary also not available, this welcome issue provides a good introduction to two of Donizetti’s lighter compositions and at bargain price.

Robert J Farr

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