Notes and Editorial Reviews
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A red hot ticket at the Metropolitan Opera in 2010/2011 was Donizetti’s comic gem, Don Pasquale, with Anna Netrebko reviving Norina, the part that made her a star in New York. John Del Carlo’s impressive singing and acting chops as the Don are given every boost by Otto Schenk’s hilarious staging and James Levine’s witty conducting. Leading this opera for the first time at the Met, the renowned maestro demonstrates that his gifts suit Donizetti as perfectly as Wagner.
Don Pasquale was Donizetti's last comedy and it's a funny, sometimes subtle work, with finely drawn characters. Malatesta and Norina
are playful and sarcastic and their music reflects this; Ernesto is a familiar opera-buffa tenor/lover in his outrage and ardency, and his sweet second-act aria has a nice, mock-maudlin aura. Pasquale also is somewhat of a stereotype. But Donizetti adds depth to their personalities and the opera is far from just a farce: it has things to say about self-delusion, self-knowledge, trust, old-age, playacting, and people's feelings.
Otto Schenk's production was new in 2006 and proved a grand showcase for Anna Netrebko and Marius Kwiecien, both of whom were on hand for the 2010 revival, which has been recorded here. Schenk is a well-known comic actor in his native Vienna and his timing is that of a pro; luckily his cast is at one with his outlook. Sexy, mischievous Norina is so full of life that she somersaults at one point, and she's a whirlwind of both motion and emotion.
Rolf Langenfass is responsible for sets and costumes, and they're just fine: Don Pasquale's large house is in the same shape as its owner--run down, once grand--and Norina's rooftop garden offers plenty of space for her shenanigans and an opportunity for her to appear half dressed while sun-bathing.
It is wonderful to hear Netrebko in a role that suits her better than either Lucia or Elvira (in Puritani), her last two showcases at the Met. She is alert to every note and movement, the voice is bigger than the usual soubrette we get in this part, and her top notes gleam. Her shy, prudish tone when she first meets and tricks Don Pasquale is both funny and effective, and she really can let loose when needed. And when, in the third act, she slaps Don Pasquale--a humiliating moment for him, the audience feels, along with her, that she has gone too far. Her coloratura is a bit sloppy and there's no sign of a trill, but few will complain. It's a total portrayal of this sassy character--and, of course, she looks the part as well.
Dr. Malatesta, who puts the plot into action, is sung with assuredness by Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien. He acts and sings smoothly, at ease with Donizetti's coloratura and with the long, graceful, legato lines that are so important to the art of bel canto. Kwiecien is the ideal playmate for Netrebko: their sounds and styles blend perfectly; both ooze charm. And he seems to get great relish out of being tricky. Tenor Matthew Polenzani has proven himself to be a stylish, interesting singer in the past and his impression as Ernesto is nothing less. Though it is Malatesta and Norina who tend to garner most of the attention in this opera, Polenzani's smooth delivery, sweet tone, and utter sincerity make him a valuable asset. His last-act romanza, "Com'e gentil", is a model of pure bel canto singing and he never shows off for its own sake.
In the title role, the towering John Del Carlo takes whatever the role offers, whether self-deludingly pleased with himself, stunned by his new bride's behavior, outraged, or self-pitying. The voice sounds dryer than when I heard him live, and close-ups reveal serious overacting; but his patter duet with Kwiecien in the third act is deliciously funny, and on the whole he keeps us entertained.
From the first, wonderfully raucous notes of the overture, it's clear that conductor James Levine has the measure of this often witty, occasionally ravishing score--the mad ensembles are as terrific as the dreamy duet "Tornami a dir" is beautiful. And the Met Chorus and Orchestra live up to their great reputations.
Subtitles are available in all major European languages, and there are brief backstage interviews with the cast, all complemented by the crisp picture and sound. This beats any of the DVD competition, although fans of Juan Diego Florez might find the Decca/Zurich set crucial.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti
John del Carlo (Baritone),
Matthew Polenzani (Tenor),
Anna Netrebko (Soprano),
Mariusz Kwiecien (Baritone)
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Written: 1843; Italy
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