From Chaucer to Commedia Dell’arte to the Carry On films, the undoing of a tyrannical and lecherous old man is a dynamic well established in western culture. On the surface, Donizetti’s comedy Don Pasquale, a shining example of opera buffa, is no different. But with directional flare from Damiano Michieletto and adroit comedic timing from Lucia Gallo as Pasquale, the archetype still has the power to spellbind an audience in this revival of Michieletto’s 2019 production.
Playing with classic archetypes, the eponymous Don Pasquale is the senex amans, the amorous old man comically cuckolded by an unfaithful lover Norina, who sneaks off with her true lover Pasquale’s nephew Ernesto. Lucia Gallo’s sprightly Pasquale is punished by Malatesta and Norina for preventing his nephew Ernesto to marry Norina and disinheriting him. He is the master of his domain, lumbering around his scuzzy retro Italian apartment fuelled by the excitement of taking a young bride like a giddy schoolboy, blissfully unaware that he is the victim of the slick leather jacketed Andrzej Filonczyk’s Malatesta’s scheming plan for revenge.
Ernesto’s Xabier Anduaga contrasts superbly with his elderly uncle, channelling a sweet adolescent passion for his lover through his charming vocal performance. If that was not enough, he even cradles a teddy bear. Their chemistry evokes the aura and comedy of an American sitcom. But it is Pretty Yende who steals the show as the charismatic and witty Norina, gleefully toying with Pasquale as she poses as Malatesta’s sister to marry Pasquale deceitfully.
Balancing meticulously executed comic timing alongside juggling a vibrant vocal performance pulled off with perfect precision is no mean feat. Yende makes it look effortless. She drives Pasquale’s domestic deposition, spending his money whilst running off with Ernesto behind his back. She overalls his flat with a chic modern design leaving Pasquale in his tartan dressing gown as a relic, a fish out of water, a king without a kingdom.
Directorial flourishes add an interesting new depth to the opera. Michieletto garnishes his production with live film and a green screen. It is not just an entertaining gimmick but also a subtle reflection of the deception and fantasies. There is perhaps even a symbolic value to puppet versions of the protagonists who act out a dumb show in act three. But with Giacomo Sagripanti’s vibrant conducting keeping Donizetti’s animated score buoyant, this production of Don Pasquale is more so smile inducing than thought provoking.
Michieletto even peppers in a good deal of sympathy for Pasquale. Memories of his mother and childhood are played out by actors as he laments his suffering at the hands of his wife. Underneath the lechery, does he just want to be loved? It is not enough to fully realign audience sympathies, but this is not the point. Regardless, it does add the hint of spice to this already flavourful production.
Words by Alexander Cohen
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