Physical Comedy Enlivens A Beautifully-Sung Production Of Don Pasquale
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Premiered in 1843, Don Pasquale belongs to a family of late-18th and early 19th-century comic operas where gentle wit and the ravishing qualities of the music almost distract from a narrative in which a group of people are really quite unpleasant to one another. Here, Don Pasquale (Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel in his role debut) is the instigator of the unpleasantness, disinheriting his nephew Ernesto for the crime of wishing to marry a penniless widow; Ernesto and the widow Norina then turn the tables on the hapless Pasquale, with the help of their friend Malatesta.
Norina pretends to be Malatesta’s convent-educated sister to seduce Pasquale into a fake marriage, then transforms into a spendthrift harpy with a wicked tongue as soon as the signatures on the marriage contract are inked. While both these types are deliberate and exaggerated caricatures of femininity played for laughs (and to teach the old man a lesson), there’s an underlying meanness to the whole narrative that might be troubling if it weren’t for the joyful sparkle of Donizetti’s score.
Director Damiano Michieletto keeps this production light with plenty of gleeful physical comedy: Terfel portrays the foolish vanity of his character by singing his opening aria while being manhandled into a corset in time to the music. Paolo Fantin’s innovative open set keeps the action fluid and fast-paced plenty of opportunity for eavesdropping behind doors.
Terfel brings sympathetic pathos to a character that can easily come across as both misguided and cruel. Soprano Olga Peretyatko has a bright and supple voice that makes light work of her Norina’s coloratura runs, and as Malatesta, Markus Werba sings with a rich and resonant tone. Tenor Ioan Hotea plays Ernesto as a bit of a wet blanket, but gamely enters into the slapstick physicality of the production. Indeed, the whole cast visibly enjoy themselves throughout this beautifully-sung production that (once we get over the fact that everyone in the story is a jerk) is also great fun.
Don Pasquale, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, WC2E 9DD. Tickets from £39, until 2 November 2019.
Last Updated 28 October 2019