Two Superb Norinas are the Highlight of the Liceu’s Don Pasquale

Credit: A. Bofill
Credit: A. Bofill

SpainSpain Donizetti: Don Pasquale, Liceu Orchestra and Chorus, Diego Mattheuz (conductor), Gran Theatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 16 & 17.6.2015 (JMI)

Don Pasquale: Lorenzo Regazzo/Roberto De Candia
Norina: Valentina Nafornita/Pretty Yende
Ernesto. Juan Francisco Gatell/Antonino Siragusa
Malatesta: Mariusz Kwiecien/Gabriel Bermúdez
Notary: Marc Pujol


New Production: Liceu, Santa Fe Opera and San Francisco Opera
Direction: Laurent Pelly
Sets: Chantal Thomas
Costumes: Carla Teti
Lighting: Duane Schuler

Don Pasquale is one of Gaetano Donizetti’s most popular operas, yet it has been absent from Barcelona’s Liceu since 1986. This new staging by Laurent Pelly had its premiere in Santa Fe last summer, but it falls below the level of what he has done in Barcelona in the past: both La Fille du Regiment and Cendrillon were better.

As with numerous other opera productions, the action has been moved forward in time  ̶  to the 1950s in Italy  ̶  but the truth is that we have seen better transpositions than this one. The sets are on a revolving stage and everything takes place in the rooms of Don Pasquale and Norina, except for the supposed garden scene which is just the outside of Don Pasquale’s house. The costumes are appropriate, and somewhat brighter in the case of Norina in the second part of the opera. The stage direction is not everything that might be expected, particularly with regard to the chorus’s movements.

Young Venezuelan conductor Diego Mattheuz, currently the musical director of Teatro La Fenice in Venice, was making his debut at Liceu, and he left a positive impression. His reading was full of verve and energy, with lively tempi that are suited to the lightness of the opera. He drew a strong performance from the orchestra, but the chorus was not particularly brilliant in their short interventions.

Don Pasquale was played in the first cast by Lorenzo Regazzo, a well-known Rossini interpreter. His acting was adequate, but his voice is too small for this house: it was difficult to hear him at times. In the second cast, Roberto de Candia was a very traditional buffo Don Pasquale with some obvious excesses on stage, but he was right for the role. He voice is not extraordinary, but it smoothly filled the auditorium.

Norina had two outstanding interpreters. Moldovan soprano Valentina Nafornita replaced Ailyn Perez, who was initially announced for the role. Ms. Nafornita, part of the Vienna State Opera for the past three years, brings with her many of the attributes necessary today for an important career. She has a lovely presence on stage and is an excellent actress. To this one can add an appealing light soprano voice, nicely handled although not particularly inclined to agilities and perhaps a little tight at the very top. South African soprano Pretty Yende was a marvelous Norina in the second cast. She has been enjoying an impressive career in the last four years, after winning competitions as prestigious as the Belvedere in Vienna (2009) and Operalia (2011). She is more than a light soprano but rather a light lyric one, with a very attractive timbre, a refined line of singing and great musicality. To this one must add a graceful stage presence and excellent acting skills. She seems comfortable with agilities and has no problems at the top. If Valentina Nafornita was an excellent Norina, Pretty Yende did not fall behind her at all. I would say rather the opposite.

Juan Francisco Gatell was a rather modest Ernesto. His voice is not particularly beautiful and is somewhat impersonal. He’s not comfortable on the high notes, as evidenced by the fact that he escapes them. Antonino Siragusa showed once more his usual virtues and defects. His voice reaches the audience without any problems and he is easy at the top, but his timbre is unattractive.

Mariusz Kwiecien offered an exemplary performance as Malatesta. As singer and actor he was just perfect, with a diction that I am not used to hearing from most opera artists. He was making his debut  ̶  rather late  ̶  at the Liceu, and I do hope he comes back soon. Gabriel Bermudez was a good Malatesta on stage but with a rather small voice for this house.

José M. Irurzun




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