Muti Replaces Mercadante Opera with Donizetti’s Don Pasquale

SpainSpain Donizetti: Don Pasquale, Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini, Chorus Teatro Real, Riccardo Muti (conductor), Madrid Teatro Real 13.5.2013 (JMI)

Don Pasquale: Nicola Alaimo
Norina: Eleonora Buratto
Ernesto: Dmitry Korchak
Malatesta: Alessandro Luongo

Ravenna Festival
Direction: Andrea De Rosa
Sets: Italo Grassi
Costumes: Gabriella Pescucci
Lighting: Pasquale Mari


One of the big events of Teatro Real this year was the presence of Riccardo Muti, conducting Saverio Mercadante’s opera La Rappresaglia, following his policy of recovering Italian operas of the first half of 19th century. The opera belongs to the period of Mercadante stay in Spain. In fact it had its premiere at Cadiz in 1829.

Unfortunately, three months ago it was announced that Riccardo Muti wil not be conducting La Rappresaglia due to the fact that his health problems prevented him from devoting the necessary time to prepare the opera, being replaced by Don Pasquale. Without going into musical evaluations, the change of title meant that the planned event was not the same anymore.

I’m not going to throw any doubt regarding the quality of Riccardo Muti as conductor, since I consider him one of the most exceptional conductors nowadays.. Many times I have enjoyed his performances on the podium, particularly in operas by Verdi, and I hope to continue doing so. What I find surprising is his presence to conduct a belcanto opera as Don Pasquale. Certainly the importance of the conductor is not the same in belcanto than in Verdi.

There is a letter adressed by Giulio Riccordi to Puccini, when the composer asked for the best singers for the premiere of La Bohème in Turin in 1896. In this letter Riccordi writes: There was a time when everything depended on the true virtuosity of the voice. Great singers were needed forNorma, Sonnambula and similar works. Today an opera needs an homogeneous cast, the morei ntellegent the better. It is not the singer who makes the opera successful, but the opera itself. The content of this letter has been used many times to explain the big changes in opera in the second half of 19th century. The problem is that Don Pasquale is belcanto opera (Paris, 1843) and undoubtedly belongs to the so called “similar works”, following Mr. Riccordi letter.

To have Riccardo Muti conducting Don Pasquale can be a luxury, but not a priority. I do not doubt for a moment of his inmense talent, but it is not in this kind of opera where one can really enjoy his conducting. Donizetti is not Verdi and Don Pasquale is not Falstaff. If we add the constant insistence of Riccardo Muti in cutting off all top nots at the end of arias, duets and ensembles, and the fact that the singers he chooses are not top stars, I can understand the not too entusiastic reaction from the audience, since in bel canto the protagonists are the singers.

Riccardo Muti’s conducting was full of delicacy and nuances, especially in the overture and ensembles. He did follow his ideas not allowing any singer to end any aria or duet on a high note, not even in the duet of Malatesta and Don Pasquale. A friend ofmine was telling me that for Don Pasquale to succedd today you need to have on stage Juan Diego Florez and Diana Damrau. My friend was right, but I had to tell him that he can never expect to have them singing with Mr. Muti on the pit, due to his very personal way to understand the opera, very sound in some repertoire, but quite questionable in belcanto.

Mr. Muti chooses the title, he selects the singers and he brings his orchestra, the Giovanile Luigi Cherubini, which he founded in 2004. If the singers are not exceptional, same thing can be said of the orchestra, rather below what we are used at Teatro Real, although they fold perfectly to the requirements of their master. The Choir of Teatro Real was below their usual level, not shining as expected in themost famous number that Donizetti wrote. I have the impression that the opera was under rehearsed.

Sicilian baritone Nicola Alaimo was a well suited Don Pasquale, funny and easy on stage. The voice is not exceptional, although he knows how to handle it, somewhat reduced in the middle and rather short at the low notes. He is a reliable singer, but he is more a baritone than the bass baritone that Don Pasquale requires.

Eleonora Buratto was Norina and her performance was not at the same height than last year in I Due Figaro. The voice seems now heavier than last year and she offers some tight sounds at the top. She started rather problemactic in her cavatina with some strident notes around the passage. She settled afterwards,although I never found her as an exceptional Norina. She was at her best in the duet with Ernesto Torname a dir che m’ami. Riccardo Muti has been always very peculiar in his coices of singers. It is not easy to understand the presence of this soprano as Amelia in Simon Boccanegra last December at Rome.

Dmitry Korchak was a good Ernesto, who sang with gusto his arias and duets, but with a limited personality and bordering falsetto on more than one occasion, particularly in the aria Com’e gentil. He offered some interesting variations in the second verse of the cabaletta in second act.

Alessandro Luongo was a good Malatesta, with a light britone and a certain panache. In this opera he is well suited, but it is more difficult to understand his presence as Count di Luna last mont at Piacenza in Mrs. Muti’s production.

Finally, the stage production by Andrea De Rosa is a rather “low cost” one. He presents the opera as a kind of theater performance, since both Malatesta brothers just play a comedy with Don Pasquale. The sets consit of a bare platform, to which there are added some chairs, a table and a mirror, serving both for the residence of Don Pasquale and the Malatestas. In the last scene the forniture is taken away and an iron gate is added at the back of the stage to create an outdoor environment.

Stage direction is not exceptional, but it is simple and pratical.

Teatro Real was almost fully sold out. The audience was rather cold during the performance and gave a warm reception, not a triumphant one, to the artists in their final bows. There was, of course, cheers for Riccardo Muti, but lower in intensity than last year I Due Figaro. The final applause was short of the 6 minutes mark.

José Mª. Irurzun