Spain Donizetti, Don Pasquale: Chorus and Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu / Josep Pons (conductor). Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 21.9.2022. (JMI)
Director – Damiano Michieletto
Sets – Paolo Fantin
Costumes – Agostino Cavalca
Lighting – Alessandro Carletti
Video – Roland Horvath
Don Pasquale – Carlos Chausson
Norina – Sara Blanch
Ernesto – Xabier Anduaga
Malatesta – Andrzej Filonczyk
Notary – David Cervera
It is the opening of a new opera season at the Liceu, and it would appear that this inaugural evening was especially appealing: the theater was practically sold out, which is not the case for any of the remaining Don Pasquale performances.
The Damiano Michieletto staging, a co-production of the Paris Opera, London’s Covent Garden (review click here) and the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, premiered four years ago at the Opéra Bastille. The setting has been brought up to modern times – there is no lack of mobile phones – and it opens in Don Pasquale’s house, which has several rooms but no walls and an old car parked at the door. Norina, an assistant in a photography studio, redoes Don Pasquale’s house in lighter tones, helped by a multitude of servants. This is one consequence of the revolution that she brings to the house, including the replacement of the car by a luxurious modern one. The final scene in the garden is almost non-existent in the sense that it takes place mainly indoors.
The biggest problem with the production, especially in the first part of the opera, is that it uses a very open stage. Without walls, problems arise in projecting voices. This improves somewhat when a wall, where videos can be seen, is added to the back of the stage. The direction of the singers has been praised in the past, but it was not particularly convincing to me.
I was surprised by the fact that the Liceu had entrusted the conducting to its music director, Josep Pons: this is a buffo, bel canto opera, and the Catalan conductor is not exactly what one can consider a specialist in the genre. My initial fears were confirmed throughout the performance: the Pons reading lacked spark and grace, and the orchestra was too loud at times. This was a problem for the singers whose voices were not exceptional in terms of volume, and the Liceu Chorus also suffered the consequences in its Act III number. The orchestra followed the orders of the conductor but not much more.
Don Pasquale was sung by veteran Carlos Chausson, one of the most prominent interpreters of the character in recent years. I have had the chance to see him in the part many times, the first in 1990 when a young Maria Bayo was Norina. Once again, Chausson did well in this role, but he too suffered from the production during the first part of the opera when his voice did not reach to the audience clearly enough. Things improved as the opera progressed when he was the Don Pasquale one expected.
Norina was played by soprano Sara Blanch, who did nicely – she sings well and moves easily on stage. Her vocal volume is not excessive which took its toll, although things improved during the opera.
Xabier Anduaga as Ernesto once again showed that he has an important voice, but this time I found him less good than before. His voice carried well, and he was the singer who was best heard even in the first part of this Don Pasquale.
Baritone Andrzej Filonczyk as Doctor Malatesta was the least convincing of the lead quartet. He has a tendency towards difficulty with projection, and this time it was more noticeable than ever. David Cervera was adequate as the Notary
José M. Irurzun