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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Don Pasquale - dramma buffo in three acts (1843)
Don Pasquale, an elderly and well-off bachelor - Claudio Desderi (bass); Ernesto, ardent but impecunious suitor of Norina – Francisco Gatell (ten); Norina, an impulsive, but sensitive, young widow - Laura Giordano (sop); Doctor Malatesta, extremely resourceful and jocular doctor. Friend of Pasquale and closer friend of Ernesto – Mario Cassi (bar)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Municipale Piacenza/Riccardo Muti
Recorded live in the Teatro Alighieri, Ravenna, Italy, Ravenna Festival, 2006
Director: Andrea De Rosa; Set Design: Italo Grassi; Costimes: Gabriella Pescucci; Lighting: Pasquale Mari
Sound Format: PCM stereo, DD 5.1 DTS 5.1. Picture Format: 16:9.
Menu languages: English, German, French, Spanish. Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish. Notes and synopsis in English, German, French
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101303 [124:00]
Experience Classicsonline

Don Pasquale is among the last of Donizetti’s sixty-six or so completed operatic compositions and his last comic work, if it can truly be called that. Like Verdi’s Falstaff, there is more than a touch of harshness in the story of a foolish old man with romantic aspirations for a young wife getting his comeuppance.
At the age of forty-five Donizetti had deserted Naples, with its restrictive censorship, after the banning of Poliuto in 1838. This story of Christian martyrdom in Roman times was complete when Donizetti was told that the King, a deeply religious man, had personally forbidden its staging in Naples and Pia de’ Tolomei (see reviews of the CD and DVD) was substituted. This was not the composer’s first run-in with the Naples censors. Heartily sick of it he left the city for Paris taking his new opera with him. Once there he had Scribe write a new libretto in French whilst he rewrote and expanded the work. It was presented at the Paris Opera in 1840 as Les Martyrs (see review). In Paris, Donizetti presented a simplified French version of his highly successful Lucia de Lammermoor at the Théâtre de Renaissance (see review). He was also commissioned to write a comic opera for the Opéra Comique and one for the Opéra itself. The success of these two works, La Fille du régiment and La Favorite, both premiered in 1840, firmly established Donizetti in Paris with its high orchestral and stage standards as well as appealing levels of remuneration for composers.
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 where Don Pasquale was premiered on 3 January 1843. The genesis of the work was not without problems. 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.
In the case of this DVD the sets and costumes of Italo Grassi and Gabriella Pescucci are in period. The set is on a central dais with space all around that allows for swift changes of venue. An example is the addition of a door and porchway at the rear at the start of act two, when Pasquale’s nephew Ernesto, complete with bags, is booted out of the house (CH. 8). This easy flexibility enables the story to unfold expeditiously. Add Andrea De Rosa’s production skills, and the whole combines to provide Riccardo Muti with the ideal setting for the necessary musical touches to be put to Donizetti’s delightful musical creation. Muti is gradually reintroducing himself to the Italian musical scene following his acrimonious departure from La Scala. A Neapolitan he has an innate feel for the bel canto genre of Donizetti who premiered so many of his works in that city. Straight from the overture Muti shows that sympathy with fleet but flexible tempi, his shaping of phrasing of the music is allied to gentleness of touch; the flute motif in the sinfonia is a perfect example (CH 1). As at La Scala, when he reintroduced middle period Verdi after a thirty-year gap, Muti has sought out singers who both look the part and can act. Of course young singers may not always be vocally ideal for a recording that is going to be watched in the comfort of the home. In this instance I am happy to put any doubts at rest straightaway by stating that although some of the soloists here are not yet international names, none is less than vocally satisfactory. All of them look right and acting their parts with conviction.
Claudio Desderi, as the elderly well off bachelor Don Pasquale, is renowned world wide in Rossini and Donizetti buffa roles. In this performance his vast experience allows him to sing and react to the story with many vocal and histrionic nuances. This even extends to attracting sympathy at the conclusion as he sits wistfully and alone as his comeuppance is celebrated (CH 20) by the other participants. The light baritone of Mario Cassi as Doctor Malatesta contrasts nicely with Desderi’s rounder tone although visually he perhaps looks a little young to be advising the older man. Francisco Gatell as the impecunious Ernesto looks the part and sings and acts well with a tightly focused light lyric tenor voice. The producer sets him off-stage for the famous Com’e gentil, the slightly distant acoustic perhaps helping avoid too many comparisons with the perfect phrasing of Schipa or Pavarotti in justifiably famous recordings! As the supposedly demure and virtuous widowed sister of Doctor Malatesta, but in fact is the intended bride of Ernesto, Laura Giordano looks a peach. Ideally young-looking her light flexible soprano has a good trill (CH 8). After the supposed wedding to Pasquale she moves easily, vocally and as an actress, from the virtuous enchantress to fiery harridan. When Norina terrorises Pasquale with her behaviour and proposed spending, and eventually slaps him (CH 13) completely deflating him, some of the harshness in this buffa opera is exposed. But it is in this scene, when Don Pasquale laments his lot (CH 14), that Desderi’s vocal nuances and acting skills come into their own, whilst in the duet Cheti, cheti immantimente (CH 17) the contrasting vocal tones of Malatesta and Pasquale are heard to good effect.
Muti’s superbly idiomatic conducting of the many ensembles and duets is allied to the singing of the chorus of the Teatro Municipale Piacenza. There are no excesses of vocal or acted display from the soloists. In fact all contribute to a very satisfying performance. Add the period settings and excellent stage direction and this version of Donizetti’s popular buffa will be a pleasure to return to over the years.
Robert J Farr


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