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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Don Pasquale - dramma buffo in three acts (1842/43)
Libretto by Giovanni Ruffini and the composer
Don Pasquale, an elderly bachelor - John Del Carlo (bass-baritone)
Norina, a youthful widow, beloved of Ernesto - Anna Netrebko (soprano)
Malatesta, his physician - Mariusz Kwiecien (baritone)
Ernesto, Don Pasquale’s nephew - Matthew Polenzani (tenor)
Un notaro, a notary - Bernard Fitch (tenor)
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus/Donald Palumbo
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra/James Levine
rec. Live HD transmission, 13 November 2010, Metropolitan Opera, New York
Production: Otto Schenk
Set and Costume Designer: Rolf Langenfass
Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler
Video direction: Gary Halvorson
Filmed in high definition
Picture Format: 1080i High Definition/16.9 - All Regions
Sound formats: Stereo: 2.0 PCM Stereo 24-bit/48 kHz; Surround Sound: 5.1 DTS-HD MA 24-bit/48 kHz
Menu language: English
Subtitles: Italian, German, English, French, Spanish
Extras: Host Susan Graham is backstage at the Met with Anna Netrebko, John Del Carlo and others
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 0734645 Blu-ray [133:00 + extras 9:00]

Engaging and nourishing the spirit this Met production was an absolute buffo delight from start to finish. With the benefit of a splendidly chosen cast Otto Schenk’s astute staging of Donizetti’s enduring comedy favourite was captured superbly by video director Gary Halvorson. Originally released in 2011 this Deutsche Grammophon Blu-ray presents Otto Schenk’s much-acclaimed production which was streamed live to cinemas on 13 November 2010.

Last season I saw how well Brigitte Fassbaender’s excellent Gärtnerplatztheater production of Don Pasquale was suited to the compact stage of the small Cuvilliéstheater in Munich. The opera also translates marvellously to the ample Metropolitan Opera House stage. Schenk together with set and costume designer Rolf Langenfass stick to a traditional beautifully detailed and vividly colourful mise-en-scène just perfect for an early nineteenth century Italian coastal city. Schenk’s choreographed action is remarkable and is so well executed that it looks virtually seamless and tasteful too.

Known predominantly for her serious operatic roles I did wonder how Russian superstar Anna Netrebko would handle the starring comedy role of Norina. I needn’t have worried. She is every inch the playful young widow and bouncingly energetic too. Singing with confidence, her remarkably creamy, expressive voice and impeccable comic timing combine to captivating effect. Norina’s costumes are perfectly suited to the suitably flirtatious Netrebko. Her enticement and subsequent capture of aging bachelor Don Pasquale is nothing short of dead-easy.

The Met audience saved its biggest roar of the evening for American bass-baritone John Del Carlo. It is easy to see why the tall Del Carlo is such a stalwart in the role of the crotchety old Don Pasquale da Corneto whose manly emotions seem to quiver at will. Used to great advantage is Del Carlo’s warm and comedic personality. Don Pasquale’s relationships with Norina, his physician Malatesta and nephew Ernesto work so well bouncing off each other effectively and making it all look so very easy. Dr. Malatesta, Don Pasquale’s dapper friend and advisor, is astutely characterised by Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien complete with a mischievous glint. Displaying his well projected vocal and on-stage confidence Kwiecien is in his element as the scheming doctor and makes the act one aria Bella siccome un angelo his own.

As Don Pasquale’s lovelorn nephew the role of Ernesto is taken by tenor Matthew Polenzani. Despite being handsome and boasting a lovely bright, tender vocal the American reveals little stage presence; this is a somewhat insipid Ernesto. Nevertheless it is hard to fault Polenzani’s sweetly satisfying rendition of the act two aria Povero Ernesto! with its lovely legato and exquisite trumpet accompaniment. Tenor Bernard Fitch as Malatesta’s cousin the Notary made as much as he could of this rather minor part. Music director James Levine conducts his Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus splendidly. We get plenty of detail and vibrant excitement. Such an experienced campaigner and clearly much loved by the audience Levine leaves plenty of space for generous applause after the key arias.

No problems whatsoever with the video direction by Gary Halvorson. Halvorson gives plenty of coverage to Levine with his players in the pit during the overture and the act two prelude. We also get shots of the auditorium and are given the strong impression of close audience involvement. During the breaks in the Met transmission host Susan Graham is backstage interviewing Anna Netrebko, John Del Carlo and Mariusz Kwiecien; an element which can easily be skipped if required. Entirely satisfying on this Blu-ray disc is the High definition picture quality and recorded sound which offers a choice between Stereo or Surround.

For unadulterated entertainment Otto Schenk’s marvellous Don Pasquale starring Anna Netrebko and John Del Carlo is as good as it gets.

Michael Cookson

Previous review (DVD): Robert McKechnie


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