Don Pasquale, dramma buffo in three acts, music by Gaetano Donizetti, libretto by Giovanni Ruffini and Gaetano Donizetti, conducted by Evelino Pidò, directed by Damiano Michieletto, Royal Opera, Monday 14th October 2019, reviewed by Leslie Jones
In director Damiano Michieletto’s updated version of Donizetti’s classic comic opera, Norina, played by the gifted soprano Olga Peretyatko, in her Royal Opera debut, is a make-up artist, working on fashion shoots. This telling detail perfectly captures the meretricious character of this self-confessed manipulator of men, “A soul [supposedly]… innocent of guile…modest without compare”, “straight out of a convent”. All women, it seems, are ultimately false. Men, notably Don Pasquale (Bryn Terfel), are their victims or dupes. Even Ernesto (tenor Ioan Hotea), is a hapless victim of love – “mi fa il destin mendico” (fate has made me a beggar), he complains. Cynicism and misogyny reign here.
According to Rosencrantz, an old man is twice a child. In a perceptive review of a previous production of Don Pasquale at Glyndebourne, Mark Valencia stated, “My beef with this…is its mean spirit. For a light comedy, Don Pasquale has a heartless streak that says it’s quite OK for old men to be humiliated…”. In similar vein, apropos the same production, Erica Jal opined that this is “…an opera that can seem to have as much to do with cruelty as comedy”. Rupert Christiansen concurred – we have “…a doddery old fool ruthlessly humiliated and cheated out of his money ….” (Daily Telegraph).
Indeed, Don Pasquale, throughout, is a figure of fun – ailing, overweight, white haired, bespectacled, possibly incontinent, self-delusional and worthy of mockery. His dressing gown and fauteuil roulant were supererogatory.
There is so much to enjoy in this production – the spirited ensemble work, the inspired conducting by Maestro Pidò, the revolving, spared down set, wherein Don Pasquale’s dreary residence, with its clapped out Fiat and furniture, is transformed into a consumerist paradise that is “…both horribly chic and oppressively minimalist” (Warwick Thompson, ‘A Designing Minx’, Official Programme). But we left the opera house, nonetheless, with a nasty taste in the mouth. Maybe it’s the ageing process.