Gaetano DONIZETTI (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, and others
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON DVD 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 acting.
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 orchestral performance.
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.
Robert McKechnie 
A Metropolitan Opera romp. Great fun
See also review by Margarida Mota-Bull of the live transmission