It has been 17 years since we’ve seen Donizetti’s delightful 1843 bel canto comic opera, Don Pasquale, at Lyric Opera. It’s been too long a wait but I am happy to report that the production we saw last night was worth waiting for.
I loved practically everything about last night’s production from the charming period Covent Garden sets and costumes to the staging. And the voices! For me tenor René Barbera as Ernesto and soprano Marlis Petersen as Norina were the standouts. It’s been a long wait but, mirabile dictu, we’ve now heard actual bel canto soprano and tenor singing bel canto soprano and tenor roles.
I do have a few quibbles. As with Simon Boccanegra too frequently the costumes faded into the sets and backdrops. I thought that in the first act Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Pasquale had some difficulty coordinating his stage business with his singing. I also thought he shouted a bit too much in the first scene of the first act, relaxing a bit as the opera progressed. But these are quibbles. Overall I found his Pasquale funny and balanced, even touching.
That’s the key to Don Pasquale, something that sets it apart from other opera buffa of the period, and one of the things that makes Don Pasquale the greatest of bel canto comic operas. It’s not just broad comedy. Pasquale is not just a buffoon who gets his just deserts at the end. We are fond of Pasquale, we sympathize with him. All he wants is a family and his wastrel nephew, Ernesto, has refused to give him one so he sets about making one for himself.
As the curtain goes down Pasquale has his family, although not in the way he’d thought—Ernesto and Norina will marry.
I understand why it’s been so long since we’ve heard Don Pasquale at Lyric: it’s difficult to sing. You can’t just belt out a few famous arias and have a hit. Yesterday evening’s cast was a young one: Ildebrando D’Arcangelo is just 43, Marlis Petersen is 44, René Barbera is even younger. Their marvelous vocal and acting skilles give me hope for the future. I hope we don’t have to wait another seventeen years to hear it again.
My ratings so far: Don Pasquale, Simon Boccanegra
John Von Rhein saw the same things as I did:
Lyric Opera has done well by Donizetti’s endearing opera buffa, which opened Sunday afternoon at the Civic Opera House. The show really shouldn’t have worked as well as it did, given the curious casting, the ancient production and the fact that three of the four principal singers were making role debuts. But it came off as a winning team effort, with everyone including the orchestra and chorus under conductor Stephen Lord proving once again the durability of this 169-year-old sitcom.
although he says it with more flair than I did.
So does Andrew Patner, who draws attention to the timeless qualities that gives Don Pasquale its enduring appeal:
On paper, the scheduling of Donzetti’s 1842 opera buffa “Don Pasquale” in a theater’s season can conjure ideas of cost-saving (there are only four solo roles, and basic sets and costumes are readily available), soprano du jour promotion (the Metropolitan Opera has featured Anna Netrebko in two recent revivals) or indifference in the pit and focus on broad comedy on stage.
Instead, the Lyric Opera of Chicago production that opened Sunday afternoon qualifies as the fourth superb season installment in a row at the Civic Opera House this season. A strong and well-balanced cast including a soprano known more for connoisseurs’ work is a full partner with guest conductor Stephen Lord and the excellent Lyric Orchestra in demonstrating what a superbly crafted and complex score this work has. And in his Lyric directorial debut, veteran English baritone Thomas Allen stages the work to match the score as well. Never failing to be funny or fun, Allen’s vision never stoops to low comedy or exaggeration. There’s a reason this work has endured for 190 years: It’s a serious examination of the human comedy.