Don Pasquale, Metropolitan Opera, 10 November 2010
The Met's Don Pasquale is all about Anna Netrebko. Otto Schenk's Met-by-numbers production is a mere four years old, though you'd be forgiven for guessing fifty-four. The other singers are, with one exception, merely competent - and what sort of conductor would boast of his Donizetti? It's Anna's minxy, knowing Norina that sets the stage on fire.
I've never heard her sing better. The part is just perfect, capitalising on her playfulness and energy and seductive charm, making few demands on her weaknesses in reach and agility. The tone is set the moment she appears, bursting out of her corset as she caresses her stocking teasingly up her thigh. No wonder the scenery applauders couldn't stem a prematurely ejaculated ovation.
In this production Dr Malatesta is very clearly Norina's lover. Mariusz Kwiecien, effortlessly superb, is Netrebko's match if not quite her equal. He pants down her neck, feeling her up at every opportunity. Watch out Anna, I don't think he's a real doctor! They're a pair of upwardly mobile street-smart guttersnipes, and their superhot chemistry is frightening.
It's not a new idea, but it explains Malatesta's motives and makes sense of the opera's strange shortage of love duets. Fleecing Don Pasquale is perhaps just a dry run. Once she's secured the hand of Matthew Polenzani's wimpy, sexless Ernesto, will she and Malatesta take him for everything he's got? And why the regretful expression after slapping the old man? Does she genuinely have a heart, or is she worried she's gone too far and blown the plan? The depth and complexity of Netrebko's interpretation keeps you guessing.
The sets may be uber-traditional but they're not generic and they serve dramatic purposes uncannily well. The lack of visual novelties shouldn't be mistaken for a lack of imagination. The squalor of poverty (Norina's humble home) and decayed grandeur (Don Pasquale's miserly quarters) are subtly contrasted - a target Jonathan Miller entirely missed in his dolls house cleverdickery at Covent Garden. The mechanics of class in this opera are centred on money not status, cold hard cash not upstairs-downstairs manoeuvring. I don't particularly care for this opera, and I don't generally go for traditional productions, but even I will admit Otto Schenk has nailed it.
The evening began with James Levine conducting the overture in loving detail - faster here, slower there, picking out the themes attentively. The orchestra slipped in neatly behind the singers and everything seemed perfect, but then it was announced after the interval that Levine was ill and couldn't continue. Joseph Colaneri - conceivably prepped in advance - took over conducting duties seamlessly. I have every sympathy for Levine, but I'm sure I won't be the first to point out that the less work he takes on, the faster his health issues might resolve themselves.
(By the way, guess who was snapped enjoying the show?)
production photos (above): Ken Howard / Metropolitan opera
curtain call photos (below): intermezzo.typepad.com