Don Pasquale - Royal Opera House, 12 September 2010
On its first outing in 2004, only an improbably blond Juan Diego Flórez in the role of Ernesto raised this production above the mediocre. This time round, there’s less star wattage to mask its deficiencies.
The multilayer dolls house set is immaculately constructed but it’s hard to see what it adds to the story, other than endless stairs for the principals to puff and pant their way up. No-one the size and vintage of Paolo Gavanelli (in the title role) needs that. Set way back behind the arch, it distances the singers from the audience and forces them to work harder to be heard. Trowelled-on character makeup extends the doll allusion but removes us even further from the very human motivations which drive the story.
Too much baffling and gratuitous ‘business’ from the ever-present servants confuses matters further. Has Jonathan Miller mistaken the blunt emotional mechanics of Don Pasquale for the subtle class tensions underpinning Rossini’s Barbiere?
Evelino Pidò’s initial Parsifalesque plod hardly helped either. Only when the singers depart the house and wander downstage for the closing garden scene do we see the work as it should be seen – a slight but charming chamber opera, aided by some livelier conducting from Pidò.
The singers did their best. Poor Barry Banks, suffering we were told from an ‘allergic reaction’, sang clearly despite his ailment and Ernesto’s grotesquely effeminate get up. Íride Martínez, a deliciously sly and knowing Norina, spun effortlessly through the coloratura with only a shrill edge marring her performance. Gavanelli, much funnier than I’d expected, generated sympathy for the deceived Don Pasquale. Miscast as Doctor Malatesta, Jacques Imbrailo made up in energy and intelligence what he lacked in bel canto style.
Production photos:Catherine Ashmore for Royal Opera House
Curtain call photos: intermezzo.typepad.com