Don Pasquale

Gaetano Donizetti, libretto by Donizetti and Giovanni Ruffini
Royal Opera House

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Bryn Terfel (Don Pasquale) and Olga Peretyatko (Norina) Credit: Clive Barda © Royal Opera
The set Credit: Clive Barda © Royal Opera
Olga Peretyatko (Norina) and Ioan Hotea (Ernesto) Credit: Clive Barda © Royal Opera
She spent how much?! Credit: Clive Barda © Royal Opera
Markus Werba (Dr Malatesta) and companion Credit: Clive Barda © Royal Opera

Dig too deeply into comedy and often there’s an undertone of sadness hidden below. That seems to be the understanding of director Damiano Michieletto in this co-production with the Paris Opéra.

Its Covent Garden staging in 2019 was a showpiece for Bryn Terfel as the 70-something bachelor fooled into thinking he is marrying a convent girl, who then acts the part of a tyrannical, spendthrift wife as soon as the ring is on her finger. She is in fact Norina in disguise, the fiancée of his nephew, part of a plot to get Pasquale's agreement to their union.

Terfel sounds tremendous, lofty in tone, agile in one of Donizetti’s rat-a-tat patter duets. And he brings a pathos too the role too, in keeping with Michieletto’s vignette’s indicating a boy who lost his mother at the age of nine and has never found another love to replace her.

I was left with a slightly uneasy feeling at the end however, as Don Pasquale—who has given his blessing to the pair—acts angrily, casting his money at his deceivers, and is quickly reduced to the state of an invalid in a wheelchair.

Paolo Fantin contemporary set involves a revolving open-plan stage in a house defined by a strip-light roof, where we first meet the Don’s chain-smoking maid helping him dress to meet his bride-to-be, hair dye and corset included.

In contrast, Olga Peretyatko’s Norina models haute couture gowns in a photographer’s studio. It’s one of those touches that does not feel quite right, diminishing one’s sympathy for this supposedly penniless girl-turned-schemer.

The use of a green screen for video projection here, and for her tryst with Ioan Hotea’s Ernesto, just gets in the way, but the most unsatisfactory and irrelevant feature of the production is the introduction of puppets at key points in the action. Terfel goes along with it, but without, it seems to me, much enthusiasm.

Peretyatko sings beautifully, Hotea sweetly but seems a palid catch for the flashy Norina, and Markus Werba is a lively presence as the photographer and plotter-in-chief, Dr Malatesta.

Reviewer: Colin Davison

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