DONIZETTI Don Pasquale (Pidò)

Record and Artist Details



Label: Opus Arte

Media Format: Digital Versatile Disc

Media Runtime: 145



Catalogue Number: OA1315D

OA1315D. DONIZETTI Don Pasquale (Pidò)


Composition Artist Credit
Don Pasquale Gaetano Donizetti, Composer
Bryan Secombe, Notary, Bass-baritone
Bryn Terfel, Don Pasquale, Bass-baritone
Evelino Pidò, Conductor
Ioan Hotea, Ernesto, Tenor
Markus Werba, Dr Malatesta, Baritone
Olga Peretyatko, Norina, Soprano
Royal Opera House Chorus, Covent Garden
Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden

Don Pasquale is a bellwether opera. The time was when it was widely seen as a comic gem – a late-gathered wine grown on old opera buffa rootstock, albeit blended to give a fuller body and warmer ‘finish’ than anything we find in the opere buffe of Donizetti’s old mentor and friend Rossini.

That was in the 1950s, since when the piece has developed a reputation for heartlessness and being difficult to stage. The familiar commedia dell’arte storyline of randy old bachelor, desperate lovers and scheming intermediary clearly had less appeal to the post-1960s world of Regietheater than that of Pasquale’s country cousin, L’elisir d’amore, with its class divides and subverted pastoralism.

Not that Damiano Michieletto’s 2019 Covent Garden staging can be described as Regietheater, now that other terms exist to describe productions whose primary aim is to rearrange the furniture in works the director doesn’t entirely trust. That’s more or less what happens here, where the update to latter-day Italy is only the start of what turns out to be a mish-mash of ill-judged theatrical ‘effects’ (back-projections, extraneous puppetry and the like) played under the neon-lit outline of a roof suspended over a house with no walls.

To hear Don Pasquale as Donizetti almost certainly imagined it, we have to go back to 1952 and a famous RAI (Italian Radio and Television) recording conducted by Mario Rossi with a cast that included Sesto Bruscantini, Alda Noni, and the young Cesare Valletti proving himself a worthy successor to his teacher, Tito Schipa, as the lovelorn Ernesto (Cetra, 9/60, now on two Urania CDs).

In May 1955 RAI also filmed the production – a notable early example of a made-for-television opera using the playback method of sound recording. Noni and Valletti remain but Pasquale is played by veteran Italian bass Italo Tajo, with the ever-versatile Bruscantini switching to the role of Dr Malatesta. Little known outside Italy, the film was reissued on a Hardy Classics DVD before being made available, fully subtitled, on YouTube.

True, the film has an old-fashioned look, and Tajo’s Pasquale owes something to an older silent-film school of acting. In all other respects, it’s a classic Italian theatre staging. And the cinematography, as one would expect of 1950s Italy, is superb.

Any successful Don Pasquale needs a number of ingredients. One is a first-rate cast of Italian or Italophone singers. Donizetti wrote it, after all, for four of the finest singers of his day. The cast of Marianne Clément’s 2013 Glyndebourne performance, conducted by Enrique Mazzola, boasts just one bona fide Italian, Alessandro Corbelli, albeit seen here in a production that never quite articulates those all-important moments of dramatic pathos that are crucial to any successful playing of the piece.

Better that, though, than this Covent Garden staging, which has no Italians in the cast, and a Pasquale – Bryn Terfel – whom the director is determined to demean at every juncture. Vocally, it’s also fairly undistinguished, the Ernesto in particular. But, there again, how can one judge when the director has him singing his nocturnal serenade ‘Come’è gentil!’, not from some offstage arbour but from what sounds like an opera-house basement?

Another key ingredient is a conductor who can marry a fleet-footed opera buffa style with the intoxicating waltz rhythms to which Donizetti had been exposed in Vienna in the late 1830s. Rossi and Alberto Erede (the conductor on the 1955 film) have this in spades. Covent Garden’s Evelino Pidò, a proven Donizettian, may do too, though how you set about accompanying a fundamentally unmusical, out-of-period production such as Michieletto’s is anyone’s guess.

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