(1797 - 1848)
Don Pasquale - Dramma buffo in three acts (1842-1843)
Don Pasquale, an elderly bachelor - John Del Carlo (bass)
Dr. Malatesta, his physician - Mariusz Kwiecien (baritone)
Ernesto, Don Pasquale’s nephew - Matthew Polenzani (tenor)
Norina, a youthful widow, beloved of Ernesto - Anna Netrebko (soprano)
Un notaro, a notary - Bernard Fitch (tenor)
The Metropolitan Opera and Chorus/James Levine
rec. live in HD transmission, 13 November 2010
Production: Otto Schenk
Set and Costume Designer: Rolf Langenfass
Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler
Menu Language: English
Picture Format: NTSC/COLOUR/16:9
Filmed in high definition
Region Code: 0 (worldwide)
Sound Formats: PCM Stereo; DTS 5.1
Subtitles: Italian, German, English, French, Spanish
Extras: Backstage at the Met with Anna Netrebko, John Del Carlo,
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 073 4635
[133:00 + extras 9:00]
This, Donizetti’s 64th opera, swept through
Europe at remarkable speed. Within six months of its opening
in Paris, it had been seen in Milan, Vienna and London. It has
remained in the repertory of international opera houses ever
since - with music that many think is Donizetti’s finest
and with comedy to match. This production exemplifies both aspects
if occasionally the antics distract from the core values.
Anna Netrebko (Norina) is in her post ‘the-most-famous-baby-birth-in-opera’
mode, re-capturing her infectious joie de vivre. Now
of fuller but admirable figure, more rounded tone and surer
comic timing, she makes the stage her own. The room in her house
has become a dramatic roof terrace - audience applause for set
design. After reading from her romantic book, she seduces the
audience, with velvet tone, deep vocal colouring and alluring
Marius Kwiecien (Dr. Malatesta) is plot protagonist. His is
not the most lyrical music but Kwiecien has power, intonation,
runs and trills all delivered with smooth colouring. Malatesta
has become a spiv: dark glasses, flamboyant cape throwing, hat
rolling, leading and misleading with charisma.
John Del Carlo (Don Pasquale) plays the role as his character
admits, a 70 year old. Tight fisted his character, but that
is not concomitant with the image of a somewhat scruffy, down-at-heels
old man, as here. Del Carlo has facial expressions second to
none but although the delight in Ah! Un foco insolito
(track 6) may not quite shine through, the pathos of È
finita, Don Pasquale (track 33) is powerful. He is
the master of the aside.
Matthew Polenzani (Ernesto) has every vocal characteristic that
the tenor hero should have. Great colouring, superb legato,
a ringingly clear tone, all with immaculate diction: from the
belting bel canto to the floating piano, Polenzani
has them all. Boredom, despair, self pity, and delight are all
illustrated with no apparent effort. Com’è gentil
(track 40) moves the audience to strong applause.
So there we have the individuals: but this opera, with only
four main characters, is so much more about their inter-action.
And for me, therein lies the strength of this production.
The opening scene of Del Carlo/ Kwiecien sets the style: expressive
gesticulation, mannerism and stage movements. Their preliminary
opening speed of dialogue leads one to look forward justifiably
to their headlong Aspetta, aspetta, cara sposina (track
39). Although was it really necessary or justified to repeat
that front of curtain at the end of the scene?
If their joint characterisation is strong, then that of Netrebko
and Kwiecien is positively electric. Their opening scene, where
she is being instructed on plot and implementation, sweeps along
with vivacity and brio that would be hard to beat. Convincing
acting, some superb facial expressions, voices that complement
and balance, leaving Netrebko to forward roll onto her day bed
to conclude the scene.
I just wish that there was more of that frisson between Netrebko
and Polenzani. They have the voices, the characterisation and
the concluding setting, but it just seems a little mechanical.
Between Netrebko and Del Carlo there is an assumed antipathy
which is played and sung so effectively. This is the shrew puncturing
the vanity of a foolish old man. My only regret is that the
act 3 stage is so busy that they have to move somewhat clumsily
around props. Also when the slap comes the resulting pathos
is delivered front of stage in closer proximity rather than
a shocked stage width apart. For me they should become as far
apart physically as they are emotionally.
If the duets are very good, the trios and quartets are outstanding.
The act 2 trio with the introduction of Norina to Don Pasquale
is particularly delightful. Del Carlo goes from the gibbering
heap through delighted ‘groom’ to devastated old
man with characterisation and vocal smoothness to match. Netrebko,
the pin-toed shy convent girl, literally lets her hair down
and becomes the taunter. When Polenzani joins them the quartet
aural balance is excellent - particularly where at the end Del
Carlo is alone on the opposite side of the stage to the others.
The chorus are a bustling hive of activity effecting Norina’s
orders and later commenting on the household shortcomings. The
large chorus on a busy stage with the different parts intermingled
still maintain their crisp sound that rapid camera work enables
us to follow visually.
Dear James Levine. Roars of approval greet him as reaches the
podium. He extracts every ounce of emotion from the orchestra:
busy woodwind, gentle then dynamic strings, and mournful cello
to stunningly clear trumpet obbligato. A greatly supportive
Thus is this not about perfect? Well no, not for me. There are
several distractions. The low camera shots looking up at the
stage distort and are unflattering. I do not want to watch the
behind the scenery conducting of the chorus in Com’è
gentil. Does Norina really have to ‘trash’ Don
Pasquale’s room to prove her supremacy? And whilst glimpses
of bosom and thigh in act 1 are not unwelcome, the split skirt,
red stockinged, black booted Norina going out on her wedding
night is a dress too far.
One has to accept that a Metropolitan Opera House recording
will have shots of sets being moved and interviews with the
artistes immediately pre- or post- stage appearance. So it is
here. Skip them. The opera is good enough to have managed without
them for nearly 200 years and they add precious little. Unless,
that is, you consider helpful such statements or questions as
that to Netrebko/ Kwiecien: “the more you goof around
the better your character gets”.
No libretto but a track list; in addition a more than adequate
synopsis following a grouping of the tracks into their various
scenes or convenient plot developments.
For a very different production played with restraint and an
uncluttered stage providing greater opportunity to concentrate
on the opera, performance and characters, try the TDK La Scala
1994 (see review).
And which do I prefer? To introduce a young person to opera
or for a celebratory entertainment, then the Metropolitan wins;
but to study the opera, the music and characters then I would
go to La Scala.
see also review by Margarida
Mota-Bull of the live transmission