Donizetti: Don Pasquale

COMPOSERS: Donizetti
LABELS: Bel Air Classiques
ALBUM TITLE: Donizetti
WORKS: Don Pasquale
PERFORMER: Patrizia Ciofi, Simone Alaimo, Norman Shankle, Marzio Giossi, Romaric Braun; Choeur du Grand Théatre de Genève; Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Evelino Pidó; dir. Daniel Slater (geneva 2007)
Donizetti’s final comic masterpiece demands velocity, pathos and above all wit. This Don Pasquale from Geneva has them all, and with Evelino Pido’s conducting in the pit it bubbles with excitement. Diehards may grumble that director Daniel Slater has for the first scene abandoned Pasquale’s house in favour of a distinctly up-at-heel café from the Parisian 1930s, but updating the opera yields stylish dividends. The folly of an old man taking a young bride is all the more evident when you have Pasquale marooned in an Edwardian frock coat while Norina sports chic outfits a la Schiaparelli. Simone Alaimon’s Pasquale is completely original: for once a man as well as a matrimonial monster. Patrizia Ciofi’s Norina is a joy. Looking like the Hollywood comic actress Aline McMahon (Giner rogers’s gold-digging friend in Top Hat, this is a benchmark performance. And Ciofi sings the role well, too: sweet-toned when she’s pretending to be a convent firl and then cascades of indignant coloratura when she sends her husband to bed. If Norman Shankle’s Ernesto is somewhat colourless, maybe we should blame the role rather than the artist; the lovelorn boy’s opening aria is elegantly done and his despair when banished by Pasquale is tinged with Pathos. As Malatesta, Marzio Giossi is more 1930s therapist than medical practitioner in this production, but when he and Pasquale attack their Act II duet it’s a pair of traditional buffa thoroughbreds on top form.