WORKS: Don Pasquale
PERFORMER: John Del Carlo, Mariusz Kwiecien, Matthew Polenzani, Anna Netrebko, Bernard Fitch; The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus/James Levine; dir. Otto Schenk (New York Met, 2010)
CATALOGUE NO: DG 073 4635 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 picture format)
For all its opera buffa fizz a deep vein of cruelty runs through Donizetti’s final comedy, and more than a hint of melancholy. A production of Don Pasquale that gets it wrong when Norina slaps her husband, or that turns Ernesto into a lovesick chump fails. On both counts Otto Schenk’s 2006 production for the Met passes muster. Norina’s hand across John de Carlo’s face transforms a doddering old goat into a man to be pitied.Anna Netrebko’s Norina is genuinely shocked at what she has done to Don Pasquale. And Matthew Polenzani’s Ernesto, about to be cut off without a penny, finds quite the right degree of pathos in his Act II aria.
But this is the Met, and that means productions crammed with lavish detail. So Pasquale inhabits a lavish if run down palazzo with the kind of staircase that Hollywood in the 1930s would have killed for; Norina is at home in a penthouse with a roof terrace; and in Act III, dressed like Maria Callas as Franco Zefferelli’s Tosca en route to murder Scarpia, she appears to have hired every available servant in Southern Italy. Donizetti’s modest little domestic comedy almost sinks under the weight of such production values. That it stays afloat is a tribute to Netrebko who unleashes some fearsome coloratura; and to John de Carlo and Mariusz Kwiecien, who deliver ‘Cheti, cheti, immatinente’ with the speed of a Bugatti at full throttle. James Levine, looking more and more like Falstaff, presides amiably enough in the pit. Christopher Cook