Thursday, November 22, 2007


This is a truly delightful opera and, in many ways, despite its comic character, it is probably Donizetti's best work. The melodies are numerous and delicious to listen to, the story is simple but funny to follow--and the score is a joy to hear! (and probably also to perform). It is difficult to believe that this was Donizetti's penultimate opera and last "opera buffa". Just three years later he was living in a Paris asylum. Two years after that he was dead.

I had the chance to compare two performances of this opera at La Scala, Milan. The first was from 1994 and was conducted by Riccardo Muti. Muti is well known for often preferring faster tempi and his approach works well with "Don Pasquale". The orchestra is tight and well drilled in its performance and the very fast patter sections benefit from the quicker tempi (though they must be the devil to sing!) Ferruccio Furlanetto is a comic buffoon and all the characters are caricatures of a well known "Commedia dell'arte" type. The production really benefits from the minute attention given to realizing the comic differences between the characters and the performance crackles with an intense energy that circulates in the interstices between the interpretations of the four main characters. Nuccia Focile makes a beautiful Norina, though one is not sure whether she isn't too sweet to play such a cunning little vixen. Lucio Gallo is a fine comic actor and is very much at his ease playing Malatesta; the American tenor, Gregory Kunde, is in fine vocal and acting form as Ernesto. Apparently he discovered he had cancer in the same year as this performance (1994). Fortunately he recovered and is still one of the most sought after tenors of the present day. The costumes and sets in this 1994 production are sumptuous and the sheer colour, energy and opulence of the performance make it absolutely top notch.

The second portrayal is from 2002, again at La Scala. Apparently they dusted off the mothballs from the clothes, sets and props of the 1994 production, because they seem to be all the same right down to the plastic grapes! It has to be immediately said that the direction and comic acting in the 1994 production was of a far higher standard than in this 2002 "revival". Alessandro Corbelli is a fine singer and actor but his Don Pasquale just doesn't have the "joie de vivre" of Furlanetto's earlier portrayal. Roberto Di Candia is an embarrassing block of wood next to Lucio Gallo's frenetic interpretation of Malatesta in 1994 (even though Di Candia seems to be wearing Gallo's earlier outfit!). Gregory Kunde is a better actor and singer than Antonino Siragusa, so that leaves only Eva Mei's Norina to consider. I think Eva Mei is the star of this performance. She sings very well and her acting is excellent. Furthermore, it is easy enough to think of her playing naughty jokes on old men: Nuccia Focile just didn't have this in her (though Eva Mei certainly can't match the cute way Nuccia Focile goes cross eyed when hitting the highest notes!)

All in all, if you want to purchase a DVD of this opera go for the 1994 Riccardo Muti production: it's excellent and a lot better than most other performances on the market!


Anonymous belcanto said...

Yes, Eva Mei is very good--but so is Nuccia Focile.

10:22 AM  

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