Item: Pasquale’s handsome wood-paneled library folds into a box — to
be trundled on and off at will. But on the side of the box is a grand baroque
window to overlook the garden serenade of the last scene, and that ornamental
window looks suspiciously like a jowly old man with bald pate, bulging eyes,
pork nose and gaping, furious mouth — a pun on an ornamental style and on
the story of the piece.
Item: Part one concludes with “Sofronia,” fresh from her convent and
dressed in demure gray gown, bonnet and veil, usurping control of her new
“husband’s” home; Part two then begins with the remodeled home full of
rushing servants under the cold stare of that severe veiled figure — but
it’s a trick; it’s only the costume on a dressmaker’s dummy, soon
replaced by “Sofronia” herself in rather gayer attire.
Item: As “Sofronia,” now Norina, sings her last delicious waltz, a
befuddled Pasquale sits alone, sadly isolated with “Sofronia’s”
twinkling shawl — but Norina, with a kiss, and Ernesto, with an embracing
arm, coax him to accept his defeat.
In short, the director’s “business” and the designers’ jokes take
delicious advantage of opportunities found in the ancient story itself, but
never push them beyond the bounds of wit or taste.
Ferruccio Furlanetto is the unsophisticated old rogue who learns a lesson;
he sounds woolly and day-dreamy and fine, playing the unsophisticated
aspirant roué who is in fact too shy to speak to a strange girl, though his
delivery of the patter could be quicker. Nuccia Focile, whose soprano is
gratefully, sensuously darker than the chirp of such classic Norinas as Grist
and Sciutti, has no problem with the coloratura of “So anch’io la virtu
magica,” but comes into her own in “Tornami a dir.” Her slimness and
agility and very Italian features don’t hurt, and in her talent and vocal
quality and care for the style she is, I think, the best candidate among
young Italian sopranos for the mantle of Mirella Freni. Gregory Kunde gives
Ernesto’s music an endearing bloom with fine arching phrases, and he makes
a stalwart figure — for once our tenor is not a cipher. Lucio Gallo
connives but does not distract as the doctor, whose plot is — well — the
plot of the opera. Riccardo Muti, famous for following the score to the
letter, seems to have noticed that Donizetti intended his last comic opera to
sparkle; sparkle it does.