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Richard Fairman
Gramophone, April 2011

A vivid performance that captures Riccardo Muti on top form in Milan

A single, loud “Bravo!” rings out at the end of the overture. It is a surprise there are not more: Riccardo Muti has just led a scintillating performance of it, in which the La Scala Orchestra plays as if wound up to its highest pitch of tension, every tutti razor-sharp, every wind solo bubbling with energy. Recorded in 1994, this production caught Muti’s reign at the height of his power and he presides over the performance with imperial authority.

It might be helpful to sort out some duplication: this same performance of Don Pasquale has already been available on DVD from TDK. In addition, the same production has been filmed for DVD at Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, with a cast led by Alessandro Corbelli, and Muti has appeared as conductor in a different production from Ravenna, released on DVD by Arthaus Musik.

Here, Stefano Vizioli’s production updates the opera to the 19th century. Don Pasquale lives in a handsome bachelor pad, furnished in dark wood with well-filled library shelves, though a blue sky is puzzlingly visible overhead. Vizioli is keen to pack in as much visual entertainment as he can, so Norina sings her entrance aria reclining on a gilt chaise longue in an idyllic countryside setting, where Dr Malatesta later joins her for a picnic. None of this does any harm, though the semaphore style of the acting gets irritating in close-up. Best to move the chair as far away from the screen as possible and try to imagine you are in the gallery at La Scala.

The cast is a good one, if not outstanding. Ferruccio Furlanetto, though looking too young, is a surprisingly resourceful player in comedy and makes a daffy, almost too loveable old dear out of Don Pasquale. Nuccia Focile brings a voice with a hard edge to the wiles of Norina, but melts touchingly in her final duet with Gregory Kunde’s less Italianate, but tender Ernesto. Lucio Gallo is a bright-eyed Malatesta, though not as suave vocally as he might be. Lit up by Muti’s all-pervading brilliance, this performance makes a decent recommendation, at least until another comes along that looks more natural on the small screen.

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