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Chris Mullins
Opera Today, February 2009

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.”

Penguin Guide, January 2009

the Arthaus version, a live recording from the 2006 Ravenna Festival, is rather special. First, it includes an unforgettable characterization of Don Pasquale himself from the veteran buffo, Claudio Desderi, now in his sixties but still in fine voice, warm-toned in lyrical passages and with wonderful articulation in the famous patter-duet with the excellent Dottore Malatesta, Mario Cassi, at the end of Act III. And indeed the ensemble at the close of Act II, in which all the principals participate, also fizzes exhilaratingly. Norina (Laura Giordano, who studied with Maria Chiara) enters the action as a demure, pretty young thing, but becomes increasingly formidable as the opera progresses. But she is fully equal to the vocal bravura demanded of her, particularly in the closing scene. Francisco Gatell is her very convincing lover: he has a pleasingly light tenor voice which is heard at its finest in the nocturnal serenade of the last Act. But the opera is dominated by Desderi’s dignified portrayal of Pasquale, and it is given greater pathos than usual by his touching dismay at this increasingly untenable position, especially after Norina has slapped him. Maybe this means that the later part of the opera loses something in sparkle, but one is unexpectedly moved by a situation which in the La Scala production is more comically frivolous. The Ravenna production is handsome, traditional in the best sense, and Muti keeps the action alive through every moment of Donizetti’s miraculous score, which seems to get better and better as the opera proceeds. The recording and camerawork cannot be faulted.

Alan Swanson
Fanfare, November 2008

Donizetti’s Don Pasquale from the Ravenna Festival easily topped my list as the best DVD of an opera in the last year. It is gentle and funny, well sung, and well acted.

To read the complete review, please visit Fanfare online.

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