masterpiece of musical writing, soloists on cracking acting
and vocal form, an orchestra mixing edge of the seat lyricism
with urgent impassioned playing and a production team self-evidently
enjoying itself: this is a classic DVD in every complimentary
potential for the unkind, in the joke played on Don Pasquale,
is kept within bounds by the emphasis on the romp in which all
excel and by the pathos after the dreadful slap: the great musical
tenderness which follows with simple gestures from Norina depicts
her great regret at a ‘step too far’.
first uproarious chords set the background of laughter and pace.
This is 1994 La Scala with their then musical director and favourite
conductor who actually smiles several times. The overture can
only be described as a delight: so thought the audience with
at least one cry of ‘bravo’ amidst the immediately following
applause. Brilliantly paced from the breakneck to breath-stopping
lyrical joy: Donizetti at his witty best played with supreme
phrasing and dynamic control. Let me put it simply: if you do
not at least smile, if not laugh out loud at the end of the
overture then you ‘ain’t got no soul’.
Furlanetto does not play Don Pasquale as a doddery ancient buffoon;
but almost as a dilettante with a library and a collection of
busts - reflecting the setting in Rome?. This is an older father
figure of a man whom we can recognise and with whom perhaps
empathise. Just occasionally Furlanetto gives away his mid-forties
age at the date of this recording, by moving too easily around
the stage and always gives it away with his stage-filling vocal
authority – a particular delight in some of the recitatives
where the deep brown vocal colouring is manifest. Having watched
the recording several times I could not make up my mind whether
Furlanetto was competing with the orchestra or vice versa, but
just occasionally a less fulsome orchestra would have been preferable.
This is a masterly performance by Furlanetto and demonstrates
again his excellent acting and vocal skills both as a soloist
and in duets and trios.
Lucio Gallo (Dr. Malatesta) does not have the same vocal power
that is made up for by his beauty of tone. His description of
his ‘sister’ affords him ample opportunity for some gentle vocal
colouring with ironical warmth. With only a brief recitative
on stage alone, the role demands strong character interaction
that Gallo delivers admirably and to which he adds excellent
comic acting and timing.
Focile (Norina/Sofronia) spends long periods alone on stage.
Indeed the production makes great use of her charms throughout,
and unusually for Ernesto’s aria Com’è gentil. Instead
of Ernesto singing on stage with the chorus off stage, here
Ernesto and chorus are both off stage whilst we watch Focile
drifting round the stage in elegant poses and reacting to the
words of his aria. It is superbly done and adds a definite je
ne sais quoi to the production. Just very occasionally there
is a hint of vocal harshness at forte on high but then she moves
into open–throated bel canto lyricism. Later she vocally
runs and trills with note middling coloratura and a relaxed
flare for transferring from head to chest voice and back again
without a waver. Focile’s characterisation is always of the
highest order and with vocal skills to match she portrays an
almost ideal Norina in this production.
Kunde (Ernesto) has the ideal voice for this love-sick swain/nephew.
A distinctive crisp timbre with ringingly clear notes and diction
to match. Here is great lyricism exemplified in his delivery
of Sogno soave e casto moving on to his forlorn cabaletta
whilst Furlanetto patters away in the background. Later, in
his final duet with Focile, which they both deliver piano,
he brings out all the colouring and richness off texture and
tone with which this music abounds.
is the interaction of the characters which is one of this opera’s
great strengths. That is reflected in the power of this production.
The whole is infinitely greater than the sum of the parts. No
matter who is singing with whom, there are no weak links.
and Gallo, with similar tessituras, complement each other delightfully
and with acting skills that make the most of the stage directions.
Without wishing to spoil the many such moments I will mention
one: the sudden production of a pair of pistols by Furlanetto
and the use made of them in their duet when about to go into
the garden to confront the lovers. Very wittily done.
when Focile and Gallo set up the meeting with Furlanetto, their
high spirits concluding Act I in Vado, corro epitomises
this DVD. Act II is, of course, Donizetti’s wickedly comic tour
de force building to the remarkable climax. It is justifiably
stunning in the production with the quartet extracting every
ounce (or gramme) of texture from Donizetti’s great writing.
role of the notary, sung by Claudio Giombi is almost perfunctory
but necessary to the plot. His repeated repetition during the
‘wedding’ vows is well delivered as is his small bombshell that
a second witness is required which sets up the quartet. Similarly
the chorus are on good vocal form and given more stage work
in this production then others I have seen. Whilst their diction
is not the clearest, the note hitting and dynamics leave nothing
to be desired.
heaping more praise on the production, I would add a caveat.
The set uses a clever folding study for the opening scene –
but why do we have to view the sky above it. Kenneth Chalmers
in the essay in the accompanying small booklet explains “The
opera is a piece of interiors, but those enclosed spaces are
dominated by the vastness of the changing sky, out of which
the characters emerge …” Maybe: but that is too airy fairy for
me. So in the next revival, just darken it please for Don Pasquale’s
room so that the bright sky does not distract when the camera
gives us one of the not too frequent views of the whole stage.
‘no expense spared’ costumes and the lighting are excellent
as is the camera-work and video presentation. There are many
joyful theatrical touches: direction at its best, none of which
will I describe here to avoid detracting from their freshness
when you see them for yourself.