Don Pasquale, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, November 2010Posted on 14 November 2010
Chaucer’s Merchant’s Tale shows the folly of a wealthy old bachelor marrying a pretty young wife, but some people never learn. Here the old fellow wants to do it partly to disinherit his nephew, and expel him from the house, because he doesn’t approve of the young man’s marrying a charming widow named Norina. He gets his come-uppance through the cunning of his ‘friend’ Dr. Malatesta, and what a come-uppance it is!
There are just four principals: the old fellow Don Pasquale, his nephew Ernesto, Dr. Malatesta, and Norina, sung by John Del Carlo, Matthew Polenzani, Mariusz Kwiecien, and Anna Netrebko, in that order, and they worked superbly together. There was electricity aplenty, and that marvellous Act 3 duet between Kwiecien and Del Carlo was carried off with wonderful speed and sparkle. But it wasn’t necessary to wait until then for the fireworks because Kwiecien had superb chemistry with Netrebko, starting from their first interaction in Act 1, which was sprightly and witty from start to finish. She was a delight to watch; her suppressed energy as a veiled convent girl when first introduced to Pasquale, followed by her charming ballet steps when she unveils and moves closer to him, belied her swift transformation into a termagant. But it’s all play-acting of course, and this production by Otto Schenk gave ample scope for fun. Del Carlo was wonderfully expressive as Pasquale, evincing our sympathy for this comical buffoon, and Matthew Polenzani gave a beautiful rendering of Ernesto’s Act 2 lament.
With flawless singing from all four principals, and a wonderfully emotional rendering of Donizetti’s score from James Levine in the orchestra pit, this performance was terrific. Sets and costumes by Rolf Langenfass gave the right sense of genteel dowdiness to Don Pasquale and his household furnishings, yet a brightness and cheeriness to the other three characters.
Whoever did the subtitles had the wit to use a bit of Cockney rhyming slang in the phrase ‘trouble and strife’ towards the end, when Norina refers to the perils of a wife. That is not the only bit of London in this opera, because the author of the original story was born in Westminster in 1572. This was Ben Johnson whose play The Silent Woman was taken up by Angelo Anelli for Stefano Pavesi’s opera Ser Mercantonio, and that in turn led to the libretto by Donizetti and Giovanni Ruffini for this delightful opera.
Johnson’s play was also the basis for Richard Strauss’s opera Die Schweigsame Frau, and I’d love to see the Met do that live in HD — any chance?