DONIZETTI Olivo e Pasquale
Apart from that operatic charmer L’elisir d’amore, I’ve come to the sad conclusion that Donizetti comedies are just not that funny: Don Pasquale is a cruel joke carried too far; the one-act opéra comique Rita concerns a tyrannical wife; and now we have the first modern performance of his Olivo e Pasquale, a melodramma giocoso resurrected at last season’s Donizetti Festival in the composer’s Bergamo hometown.
Lisbon shopkeepers Olivo and Pasquale are brothers, Olivo a brutal father wishing to marry his daughter, Isabella, off to a wealthy merchant, while Pasquale is a shy innocent. With the aid of Uncle Pasquale and a hoax suicide, Isabella eventually persuades Olivo to allow her to marry Camillo, a simple apprentice, instead. For a slight plot, Donizetti manages to spin it out for two long acts. He revised the opera for Naples within months of its Rome premiere, changing the mezzo trouser role of Camillo to a tenor and replacing sung recitative with dialogue in Neapolitan dialect – tedious acres of it.
Directors Ugo Giacomazzi and Luigi Di Gangi of operAlchemica present a colourful production, dominated by scarlet suits and surreal sets of printed fabrics – the brothers appear to be in the newspaper business. It’s played as knockabout farce, the singers often forced to mug in pantomime manner. Musically, it has its attractions. The brothers are both stock buffo basses and get a fun patter duet. The Act 1 finale is infectious, all the characters dumbfounded at the situation, not unlike Rossini’s in The Barber of Seville.
The singing at Bergamo’s Teatro Sociale isn’t terrific though, with only sweet-toned soprano Laura Giordano, as Isabella, putting in the sort of performance to stand up to repeated listening on the CD version released simultaneously. Bruno Taddia blusters as the splenetic Olivo, but has an approximate relationship with the notes in some of his patter. Pietro Adaini’s nasal tenor makes little of Camillo, though Matteo Macchioni has a brighter ring as the wealthy Le Bross. Federico Maria Sardelli secures lively playing from the Orchestra dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala. Dynamic’s libretto is only available online, which makes the CD issue even less recommendable. Better to sample the DVD, but even so this is hardly an essential purchase.