Notes and Editorial Reviews
Evelino Pidò, cond; Simone Alaimo (
); Marzio Giossi (
); Norman Shankle
Patrizia Ciofi (
); Romaric Braun (
); Grand Théâtre de Genève Ch; O de la Suisse Romande
BELAIR 33 (DVD: 127:00) Live: Geneva 5/2007
Here’s a case of “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” The illustrations on the CD case liner showing two moments from the Grand Théâtre de Genève production of
reveal Norina in two costumes definitely discordant with the opera’s mid-19th-century origins. The scenery glimpsed in those illustrations could give you shivers that this is another oh-so-arty-look-how-clever-we-are production. A “But” is coming; please read on:
The time has been shifted to the early 20th century. The opening two scenes take place in the street before The Artist’s Café, with tables arranged for dining
. Dr. Malatesta is now a psychiatrist reading Freud. Norina is a painter. Traditionalists please keep reading. This is a wonderful production. Yes, truly! Rarely have I enjoyed watching a video of an opera as much as I enjoyed this one. All of those aforementioned breaks with tradition are true, but they work. In spite of the visual updating, the spirit of Giovanni Ruffuni and Donizetti’s story of playing a trick on Pasquale to help Ernesto marry Norina remains intact.
It is an intimate opera, only four principal characters and limited chorus involvement, which can get lost on a huge opera stage. The production team has used the space wisely and creatively. The café spans the entire width of the stage; in addition to the principals, assorted supernumeraries populate the café and occasionally supply supplemental action that is deftly worked into the story. There is a major scene shift during “Povero Ernesto” as the café is transformed into Pasquale’s very elegant mansion filled with antiques. When Norina, as Sofronia, redecorates the mansion, she pulls off the dust covers and,
! She has replaced all the elegant furnishings with garish modern art and Technicolor atrocities—hence the photos on the case-liner. The audience appreciates the joke, and watching the look of horror on Pasquale’s face adds to the humor.
What sells this production is the cast. Four very talented singers charm and beguile us with excellent singing and acting. Don Pasquale offers challenges to the bass assigned to the role very similar to those presented by Don Alfonso in
Cosí fan tutte
. They are essentially buffo roles, but there’s an element of meanness inherit in their characters. Pasquale opposes his nephew’s love affair with an impoverished widow, Norina, and threatens to disinherit Ernesto. Pasquale is both the buffo and the villain of the piece; the trick is to make him likable to an audience. Bass Simone Alaimo not only makes Pasquale likable, but sympathetic as well. There is a surprise happy ending for Pasquale as part of the clever curtain call. Patrizia Ciofi is a great comedic actress with lots of coloratura and dazzling high notes; Marzio Giossi creates an interesting and complex Malatesta. American tenor Norman Shankle is an ingratiating and charming Ernesto, with a voice reminiscent of the youthful Carreras.
Stage Director Daniel Slater has crafted an entertaining, imaginative production that retains the spirit and character of the opera. Francis O’Connor’s sets and costumes are elegant in the first act and clever in the second. The opera is presented in two acts, the intermission coming between the traditional acts II and III. Conductor Evelino Pidò seems to love this score. The waltzes have lilt, the ensembles sparkle, and he lets Ernesto bring out the full pathos in his plaintive ballad and the romance of the serenade. Don Kent’s video direction offers variety without intruding on the stage action.
BelAir Classiques offers subtitles in French, English, German, and Spanish; sound options are PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1. The disc is formatted NTSC (Region Free), the picture is 16/9 widescreen. It was recorded in high definition.
FANFARE: David L. Kirk