High Level Comedy in Helsinki’s New Don Pasquale

FinlandFinland Donizetti Don Pasquale. Soloists, Finnish National Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Marco Boemi (conductor). Finnish National Opera, Helsinki 27.9.2013. Premiere (GF)


Photo © Heiki Tuuli Hanna Rantala (Norina), Jaakko Kortekangas (Malatesta)
Photo © Heiki Tuuli
Hanna Rantala (Norina), Jaakko Kortekangas (Malatesta)

Don Pasquale – Roberto de Candia
Doctor Malatesta – Jaakko Kortekangas
Ernesto – Tuomas Katajala
Norina – Hanna Rantala
Notary – Juha Riihimäki

Director: Tuomas Parkkinen
Sets: Hannu Lindholm
Costumes: Tuomas Lampinen
Lighting design: William Iles

Sicily in the 1950s. Palm-trees and indigo-blue sea, a romantic tune played by a golden trumpet. Thus the opening of the second act of this cruel story. The trumpet feels right for the period – remember the popularity of Eddie Calvert? Here it was Touko Lundell who played so languorously. Oldies with personal memories can revel in the nostalgia of dresses and hairstyles and in the midst of all this Don Pasquale, the old bachelor who has decided to get himself a wife, seems like a relict from a previous century. Cruel? Yes, it wouldn’t have been all right even two hundred years ago to mock an old man for his desire to find a lovely creature to spend his last years with. But this is the nature of opera buffa, cruel and merciless. The moral, expressed in the final quartet is simply. not to marry in old age. True, they are all reconciled, even Don Pasquale himself admits that his plans were sheer folly and, honestly, once in a while it may be legitimate to have a good laugh, not at Don Pasquale but with him and the others. In Verdi’s Falstaff the entire ensemble sings in the final fugue: Tutto nel mondo è burla (All the world is folly). Morals aside, it is good to see and hear Donizetti’s last comic opera for the sake of the elegant and spirited music and for the comical situations that of course were quite improbable even in 1843 when the work was premiered and even less so in the 1950s.

But never mind. Set designer Hannu Lindholm has created atmospheric stage pictures and director Tuomas Parkkinen has inspired his team of singing-actors to savour all the opportunities to entertaining, classy comedy. Once or twice it verged on farce but they managed to draw the line. With Italian maestro Marco Boemi in the pit Donizetti’s beautiful and mercurial score was in safe hands from the very beginning with a romantic reading of the overture and overall the playing of the FNO orchestra was assured and precise. The chorus had some great moments in the second act when Don Pasquale’s house was filled with servants.

A native Italian is always an asset in a comic opera and Roberto de Candia, who was an expressive Gianni Schicchi in Helsinki two years ago, was very much at home in the older composer’s idiom. You don’t expect the utmost in beauty from a Don Pasquale, but de Candia knows all the tricks, he has a very expressive rubber-face and the patter-singing in the third act was stunning. Even more impressive was Jaakko Kortekangas as Malatesta. His baritone is well focussed and for a non-Italian his virtuoso singing was quite stunning. Besides this he has stage presence and his timing in comical situation is superb. Hanna Rantala was a charming Norina, a true comedienne and she sang with fluency and technical command. But the real winner was Tuomas Katajala’s Ernesto. I have heard him a number of times lately in mostly small parts, but here he excelled in lyrical bel canto singing that made me remember Cesare Valletti, who in the fifties was the supreme singer in this repertoire. Katajala showed the same beauty of tone, the same lightness, the same sense for musical nuances and even more glow than Valletti in the upper register. Come e gentil in the third act garden scene was like a dream and when he joined forces with Hanna Rantala in Tornami a dir Heaven was close indeed.

The notary has little to sing but Juha Riihimäki drew a nice portrait with small means of the character. This is a Don Pasquale to remember and I hope it will be mounted again during seasons to come.

Göran Forsling