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13 Feb 2009
Donizetti's Don Pasquale from the Ravenna Festival
The CEO of the Ravenna Festival, one Cristina Mazzavillano Muti, understandably takes top billing at the top of this DVD booklet's three - count 'em, 3! - pages of credits for the Festival, not counting the single page of credits for the production of Donizetti's Don Pasquale itself.
Mrs. Muti also gets a respectful if oddly-phrased nod from the production’s director, Andrea De Rosa: “The director thanks to CRISTINA MAZZAVILLANI MUTI [caps from the original] for her continuous and unique carefulness she dedicated to the project.” Wonder what made her carefulness “unique”? Beyond her ability, that is, to snag as conductor one Riccardo Muti.
Filmed for TV at the Teatro di Tradizione Dante Alighieri for the 2006 Ravenna Festival, director Rosa’s Pasquale appears to be set at the time of the opera’s composition, judging by Gabriella Pescucci’s somber formal dress for the men. Set designer Italo Grassi erected wood-paneled doors for entrances and exits; otherwise, the stage backdrop is black cloth. While not high on visual appeal, the drab presentation actually plays well enough, as Don Pasquale’s comedy has always had its troubling aspect, with the title character certainly deserving of some comeuppance but not necessarily the mean-spirited actions of Malatesta and Norina. Pasquale furiously kicks out his nephew Ernesto after the younger man has rejected his uncle’s choice for his bride. Malatesta, ostensibly Pasquale’s friend, concocts a scheme to make Pasquale regret this disinheritance by tricking Pasquale into a marriage with Norina, Ernesto’s true love, who plays along by acting a total shrew. When the trick is exposed and the sham marriage annulled, Pasquale forgives his nephew out of relief.
Donizetti’s charming and tuneful score provides the spoonfuls of sugar to help this somewhat sour comedic medicine go down, and conductor Muti gets sharp, colorful playing from the youthful Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini. Apart from Claudio Desderi’s Pasquale, a youthful cast fits the generational profile of the characters very well. Malatesta shouldn’t be too much older than his “sister,” Norina, and Mario Cassi looks like a successful young gentleman, very much a more professional cousin to Rossini’s Figaro. Cassi’s smooth baritone provides the show’s best singing. Desderi starts hoarse and never clears up, though he acts well, keeping in balance Pasquale’s ridiculousness and essential humanity.
Francisco Gatell makes a handsome Ernesto, but the voice is undistinctive. As actress, Laura Giordano excels as Norina, here an almost literal spitfire who seems to get almost a sadist’s pleasure out of her part in the scheme. In faster music, Giordano’s instrument does well enough; the rest of the time, she has a pinched tone and a fast vibrato that upsets the melodic line.
Your reviewer gratefully acknowledges that the subtitles introduced an unfamiliar word to him, “temerarious.” The DVD prompts a language selection with the first screen, but that doesn’t turn on the subtitles in the selected language, oddly enough.
So the orchestral playing trumps the singing in terms of quality, and the intimacy of the small theater’s stage helps the drama come across despite the unimpressive physical production. Not a great Don Pasquale, but a decent one, so be sure to “thanks [sic] to CRISTINA MAZZAVILLANI MUTI.”