Thu, 07 Nov 2019
DONIZETTI’s comic masterpiece Don Pasquale, the last great opera buffa, has been a favourite in the bel canto repertoire since its first triumphant performance, in Paris in 1843.With libretto by Ruffini and Donizetti, it’s best to suspend belief over the absurd plot. It’s an old story; an elderly bachelor falls for a pretty – and apparently submissive – young woman, disinheriting his nephew. We encounter a scheming doctor, a phony notary and a fake wedding contract. Ultimately, a young couple marry for love, and Pasquale gets out of a sham marriage. It’s a comedy, but a darkly sad one, with a foolish old man manipulated for others’ ends.
Donizetti’s lively, lyrical, witty music, with great tunes, ensembles and arias, is combined with a sure sense of
theatricality. It’s musical from start to finish. Evelino Pidò conducted with precision and detail, the ROH Orchestra clearly enjoying playing for him. The eminent Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel was making his ROH debut in the eponymous role. His voice is mature, his tone sonorous and he made the most of the comedic element – somewhat hammily at times, it must be said. In dressing gown, pyjamas and slippers – and, ultimate passion killer, a corset – he is emotionally immature, still tied to his childhood home and the memory of his doting mother. His health is poor, his roots are highlighted and he’s armed with a breath-freshener. Also making her ROH debut was Russian lyric soprano Olga Peretyatko as Norina. A natural actress, she exudes confidence, her glorious, secure voice ideally suited to coloratura passages. Scheming and profligate, sharp and quick, seduction comes easily to her. A vain and deluded old man is no match for her. Leather-jacket-and-jean-clad baritone Markus Werba has a warm, expansive voice; he was a swaggering, arrogant, charismatic Doctor Malatesta. Tenor Ioan Hotea has a pure, articulated voice, with a Heldentenor quality. As Ernesto, he was love-lorn, sincere – and gullible. Frankly, he’s a bit dim. Bryan Secombe, part of the ROH chorus, was again singing a solo role, as the Notary, and the non-vocal roles were telling: Pasquale’s old housekeeper/nanny, played by Jane Evers, and his mother.
The creative team are an intrinsic part of this new production. Directed by Damiano Michieletto, with costume design by Agostino Cavalca, the opera moves fluidly, in set and costume, between Italy in the 1960s and the present. The set, designed by Paolo Fantin, with video design by rocafilm, and lighting by Alessandro Carletti, is open and expansive, just a minimal neon outline of Don Pasquale’s house and garage (reference Bruce Nauman et al). Initially it houses a 1960s Lancia; later Norina’s Maserati. At first the house is filled with the furniture of Pasquale’s childhood. When Norina gets to spend, spend, spend, it gets an ultra-contemporary make-over. Integrated technology links past and present. Norina’s assignation with Ernesto comes via text, and she works (reluctantly) for a studio photographer; his studio is backed by a giant digital-camera screen, so we see the singers both in reality and as projections. With screen direction by Pati Marr, this was a thoroughly enjoyable production (despite some minor transmission glitches). In the end, you can’t help worrying for Ernesto. You hope he’s prepared for married life; this Norina will eat him for breakfast. And Don Pasquale, fittingly, has a moment of revenge; he keeps the keys of the Maserati.