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 his eye on acquiring a young wife, getting his comeuppance.
At the age of forty-five Donizetti deserted Naples, with its restrictive censorship. The final straw had been the last minute banning in 1838 of his opera Poliuto
. This was through the personal intervention of the King, a deeply religious man. 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, revising it in French as Les Martyrs
. In Paris - with its high orchestral and stage standards as well as appealing levels of remuneration - Donizetti also presented a simplified French version of his highly successful Lucia de Lammermoor
at the Théâtre de Renaissance (review
). He was commissioned to write a work for the Opéra Comique and one for the Paris Opéra itself. The success of the resulting two works - La Fille du Régiment
and La Favorite
- both premiered in 1840, firmly established Donizetti in the French capital.
Returning to Paris after the successful premiere of Linda di Chamounix
in Vienna in May 1842 (review
), Donizetti secured a commission to write a comic opera for the Théâtre Italien. He had some trouble with competition between the singers but in the end boasted that he had composed the new work, Don Pasquale
, in a mere eleven days. The pace and fleet felicity of the music, and its melodic invention, reflect this. The opera was a resounding success and within months was produced all over Europe, reaching America in January 1845. If not quite the equal of his L’Elisir d’Amore
or Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia
, it is one of the three most popular Italian comic operas.
This 2013 recording, available in Blu-ray as well as DVD, is of the 2011 touring production given at Glyndebourne. The staging is updated by fifty or sixty years or so. The chorus is decked out, for no logical reason, in rather expensive earlier period costumes and are gratuitous onlookers to the assignation between Ernesto and Norina. While we are spared updating to the present day, Director Mariame Clément introduces a sub-plot that Donizetti certainly did not conceive. This involves a rather close, even intimate, relationship between Doctor Malatesta and Norina. One ends up wondering what Ernesto gets out of the plotting, except whatever money is left after Norina has spent Don Pasquale’s savings on clothes and gallivanting. The production makes the most of the Glyndebourne’s stage revolve for speedy scene-changes.
Musically, matters are much better with experienced Donizetti conductor, Enrique Mazzola, drawing fine playing from the orchestra whilst allowing and facilitating elegant bel canto
singing from the soloists. As Norina, Danielle de Niesse should be a shoe-in for the role but starts rather effortfully (CHs9-10) before settling in vocally. She pouts and sparkles as well as giving Don Pasquale a hard time after their so-called marriage and delivers what looks like a ‘bunch of fives’ rather than a hearty slap (Ch.25). The young-looking Doctor Malatesta is sung with careful elegance by Nikolay Borchev, whose acting is somewhat starchy. This may be explained by the sub-plot. He is, after all, the cat that seems destined to get the cream at the end, as well as a few gropes and a bath along the way.
If the sub-plot means that Ernesto is to be a cuckolded husband, at least he does not know it. American tenor Alek Shrader sings his role with pleasing tone and acts well. His rendition of the serenata Com e gentil
(CH.32) is a delight with elegant phrasing and tone. The following duet between Ernesto and Norina is a vocal highlight too; he doesn’t as yet know the outcome in this production (CH.33). The all-out loser is Don Pasquale who has to recognise he is past it as far as a young bride is concerned; the lesson costs him a fair amount of money along the way. The role requires a singer-actor of the highest quality. If his vocal tone is a little past its prime there is currently no better performer of the role than Alessandro Corbelli. If your take your eyes off him for a moment, you miss a movement or gesture that is wholly germane to his consummate interpretation. I played act two and parts of act three again for the sheer enjoyment of his acting. It also meant the bonus of the famous patter duet between Pasquale and Malatesta (CH.31) that was encored in any case.
The bonus Behind the Curtain
involves introductions by Danielle de Niesse and is worth watching. I have given some Chapter indications. I regret to report that, as is their habit, Opus Arte, despite charging premium compared with rivals, does not include a Chapter listing and timings in their multilingual booklet. Such a listing would be more use than the ‘Director’s Note’ and the essay on dance rhythms.
Robert J Farr