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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848) Don Pasquale - Dramma buffo in three acts (1843)
Don Pasquale - Alessandro Corbelli (buffo bass); Ernesto - Antonino Siragusa
(tenor); Norina - Eva Mei (soprano); Doctor Malatesta - Roberto de Candia
Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari/Gérard Korsten
rec. Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, 2002
Stage Director: Stefano Vizioli
Set designer: Susanna Rossi Jost
Costume designer: Roberto Guidi di Bagno
Video Director: Patrizia Carmine
Sound Formats: PCM Stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1
Picture Format: 16:9.
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean
Notes and synopsis in English, German, and French ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 107251 [121:00 + 31:00 (bonus)]
Don Pasquale is among the last of Donizetti’s sixty-six or so completed operatic compositions. It was also 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. In the case of this work, a foolish old man with romantic aspirations for a young wife gets 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 by the King personally, a deeply religious man, of his opera Poliuto. 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 Martyr’s. In Paris, Donizetti also presented a simplified French version of his highly successful Lucia de Lammermoor at the Théâtre de Renaissance (review) and was also commissioned to write a work for the Opéra Comique and one for the Paris 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.
Returning to Paris after the successful premiere of Linda di Chamounix in Vienna in May 1842 (review), Donizetti got a commission to write a comic opera for the Théâtre Italien. He had some trouble with competition between the singers and in the end boasted that he 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.
In this delightful 2002 production from Cagliari, the costumes are in period; likewise the set inside the old man’s house, in which Ernesto also lives. A quartet of Italian singers, versed in the idiom of comic opera in their own language, along with a sympathetic conductor, also contribute to the pleasure. Best of all is the superb acting and singing of the renowned buffo bass, Alessandro Corbelli in the title role. His facial expressions at every nuance of the plot, particularly as he has to accommodate the demands of his young wife, clearly shown by the video director, make for extra amusement. They also help guarantee the success of the performance. The best moments of all are when the extravagances of his wife’s shopping excesses are delivered (CH.26). That is not to forget his acted manner as he treats his nephew Ernesto to a barrage of criticism and as Ernesto tells him to pack his bags and go as he is intent on taking a wife (CHs.14-15). The poor young man finds it unbelievable, even before he realises that the intended wife is his beloved. He is kept in suspension of the machinations until Malatesta lets him in on the scheme.
As I have indicated, the overall standard of the singing and acting are excellent. There are a few moments when Antonino Siragusa’s tone sounds a little nasal; otherwise his singing is well phrased. Eva Mei's pure high soprano and acted interpretation, along with the clear and expressive baritone singing of Roberto de Candia’s Malatesta are ideal complements. Each characterises and acts well.
While conductor Gérard Korsten is not in the Muti class in the other recommendable version (Arthaus Musik 101303 - review) the overall singing quality of that performance from the 2006 Ravenna Festival is exceeded here. I only note in passing a slight technical mishap with the picture (CH.23) when the blue sky above the set overlays the faces. The bonus shows rehearsals with the cast in mufti and in costume. Opera addicts will find it worthwhile watching. I just wish that the UK’s subsidised opera companies put on such natural and well sung productions.
Robert J Farr