United Kingdom Donizetti: Don Pasquale: Scottish Opera Soloists, Orchestra of Scottish Opera, Chorus of Don Pasquale / Francesco Corti (conductor), Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 01.02.2014 (SRT)
Don Pasquale: Alfonso Antoniozzi
Dr Malatesta: Nicholas Lester
Ernesto: Aldo Di Toro
Norina: Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson
Renaud Doucet (director)
André Barbe (designer)
In many ways, Don Pasquale is the very model of opera buffa, conforming to pretty much every expectation of the genre. Its types (the elderly miser, conniving friend and pair of young lovers) stretch right back to the Italian tradition of commedia dell’arte, and Donizetti distils them brilliantly down to less than two hours of effervescent music. Yet even though it has an undeniably dark heart at its centre (Malatesta’s treatment of his patient is, surely, tantamount to abuse) it’s unusual to see a modern production that properly engages with this. Doucet and Barbe’s production didn’t either, choosing to update the setting to a crumbling Roman Pensione, run by Don Pasquale, in April 1965. Its slightly tawdry setting helped to bring home the Don’s meanness, and it served as a diverting excuse for lots of primary colours and Italian stereotypes. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the main reason they had gone for this was to choose a setting that offered plenty of excuses for distraction, as if the director was afraid of the passages of music where little happens. The greatest crime, in this sense, took place at the start of Act 2 where the long, soulful trumpet cavatina (beautifully played by Huw Morgan) that precedes Ernesto’s great aria had to suffer the distracting spectacle of a comic couple checking into the hotel. If only they had trusted Donizetti’s music to do its job, regardless of the setting……. Nor could I quite see the point in their central conceit of having Don Paquale obsessed by cats; barring a few (rather lame) stage jokes, this didn’t go anywhere.
Still, the musical values were high, and that’s what counts. Alfonso Antoniozzi blustered away convincingly (and always tunefully) as the elderly Don, and Nicholas Lester made an unusually young, vigorous Malatesta. The two were well contrasted, though, and their patter duet in Act 3 was exhilarating. Aldo Di Toro, on the other hand, sounded a little effortful as Ernesto. Even though all the notes were there, it sounded like hard work, and this sapped some of the beauty from the love songs of the final scene. Best of all, though, was the sparkling Norina of Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson, a masterclass in how to sing a bel canto heroine. She had the full range of the role, capped by a gleaming top and rock-solid coloratura, and the soubrettish colour of her voice allowed her to fit right inside the character. She is one to watch. Former music director, Francesco Corti, stepped into the pit and gave a slightly workmanlike but always precise reading of the score, sparkling and sensuous as it needed to be.