Notes and Editorial Reviews
Nello Santi, cond; Ruggero Raimondi (
); Oliver Widmer (
); Isabel Rey (
); Juan Diego Flórez (
); Zurich Op House O & Ch
DECCA 000944109 (DVD: 130:00) Live: Zurich 2006
Act I of this production begins promisingly, outside a house, whose walls then open forward and sweep to the side, becoming part of the inside walls of the first set. Everything is being redecorated in the main room. Paintings have been taken off the walls, and the area is almost bare—save for an improvised table, a single piece of statuary, and several small, incongruous teddy bears. A stairway sweeps upwards to a balcony with two exits, overlooking the room below. All of which points to a directorial vision by Grischa Asagaroff that is respectful of the opera but quite creative, willing to try something different from the usual stuffy bachelor’s lair, while keeping an eye for dramatic appropriateness and theatrical practicality.
So it proves throughout this production. The various servants are identified with specific roles, and integrated at different times into the action—as when Pasquale celebrates his victory at acquiring a wife by whirling an elderly maid around twice. (Her 10-foot stare at him indicates she heartily disapproves.) Or consider the servants smiling as they respectfully but with evident satisfaction place Ernesto’s suitcases under a tree outside Pasquale’s home at the beginning of act II. The oldest of the lot hands the former resident his tennis racquet by a pair of fingertips, as though the thing were vermin, while the trumpet soloist who leads into “Povero Ernesto!” is dressed as a begging musician, seated under a window, hat upturned for funds. It’s all handled so quietly and with tongue-in-cheek that it might as well be an Ealing Studio comedy. There are several moments such as this spread throughout the evening.
The time of the opera is updated to the 1920s, but its temporal shift is somewhat more than just a gimmick. It allows Dr. Malatesta to take advantage of advancing medical knowledge, giving the eponymous hero pills dissolved in water, and stopping his forays into the whiskey decanter. (Every action is defined and clear, thanks to good blocking.) The period also may provide some viewers with a justification for Norina’s self-reliance, and make her transformation into the harpy of act II’s finale plausible.
Felix Breisach’s photography is excellent. Each camera angle flows smoothly into the next, with concentration on the most important elements in the scene. A discreet mix of long, medium, and close shots are used; perhaps a trifle too much of the last, since they make the actor’s movements and facial expressions, intended for the audience, appear overdone. They also do no favors to middle-aged Isabel Rey, playing the youthful heroine.
She triumphs over this, however, with an excellent vocal technique and sparkling performance that never seems forced. As much and more can be said of Juan Diego Flórez, the perfect image of a modern
tenor: suave, stylish, shooting fireworks one moment and tossing out a melting diminuendo, the next.
According to the accompanying notes, Raimondi had to be convinced by Santi to take on the eponymous role in this production. The bass-baritone is in his sixties, and that’s apparent in the way he occasionally cuts phrases short, and cannily conserves his voice for testing moments (like a bubbling “Aspetta aspetta, cara sposina”). His acting is very good, and the farcical bits that have been added—all those teddy bears, a truly grotesque red toupee for the faked wedding—are used with surprising yet welcome restraint. Once that toupee gets on Pasquale’s head, for example, it stays there, and never acquires a life of its own.
Subtitles are available in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Chinese. The aspect ratio is 16:9 anamorphic, and sound is offered in LPCM stereo, and DTS Digital 5.1 surround. No extra features are provided, unless you count the commercials for other Decca opera DVDs boxes. I don’t.
All in all, a highly enjoyable
, matched in all elements save an inferior Malatesta. Well worth the purchase.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal