Don Pasquale in Zürich – a rather vivid comedy with many slapstick elements
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Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti. Dramma buffo in three acts. Libretto by the composer and Giovanni Rufini. First performance at the Théâtre Italien, Paris, on 3rd January 1843.
Opernhaus Zürich. 8 December 2019.
Many people regard Gaetano Donizetti`s opera Don Pasquale that premiered in Paris in 1843 as the last work in the tradition of opera buffa. While musically this opera is clearly a work of mid 19th century, the plot plays with one of the most common topics of the opera buffa tradition: A mature, wealthy man who gets married to a young wife. In this case the older Don Pasquale decides to get married, when he does not agree that his nephew Ernesto is getting married to the young widow Norina. Norina and Dottore Malatesta, Don Pasquele`s physician, start an intrigue, with Norina dressing up as the convent school girl Sofronia, who starts to make Don Pasquale’s life a hell at home, once the faked marriage contract is signed. In that context a smack by Norina/Sofronia for Don Pasquale is one of the most akward highlights one can find in the whole opera buffa tradition.
With mixed feelings though one left the recent premiere of Don Pasquale at the Opera House in Zurich. The previous, brilliantly-worked production of that work at the Opera House had been directed by the long standing stage manager Grischa Asagaroff during the late 1990s and, with changing star casts, it has been presented until January 2016. One wished on that opening night, Luigi Perego`s coloured revolving stage to have delighted the audience once more, instead of the sterile rooms Johannes Leiacker has created this time for the new production by Christof Loy. The director explains in the program book, that he would like to emphasize the melancholic aspects of Donizetti`s work. On the stage though, the audience does not feel much of that melancholy.
We can follow rather a vivid comedy with many slapstick elements. Positively I need to mention that Christof Loy, while updating the opera to our time, is still working with the principles of opera buffa, and does not negate the roots of that opera form in Commedia dell’arte. Loy`s directing is very exact and full of wit and humor. On the other hand, many aspects of this production make absolutely no sense. Why is Norina receiving many lovers at the same time in her house? Why is Ernesto eating a plate full of spaghetti, while lamenting his fate? Why is everyone in Don Pasquale`s Villa wearing the same black suits, while a young man like Ernesto would never walk around dressed up like this today? Why is the last scene of that opera playing in front of a white, antiseptic wall with brown stripes? There is no melancholy, no atmosphere in this final scene, and it seems to me, that the director just did not listen to the music here…..
A good idea is the finale punchline of that production: Norina has apparently fallen in love with Don Pasquale and would love to stay with him, while the old man, of course, is too much hurt to take her back: an intelligent ending of a mixed evening. Musically the opening night of this production was mostly convincing. German Baritone Johannes Martin Kränzle proved to be a superb cast for the title role. His performance was full of wit and heart, while his powerful and at the same time soft sounding baritone was an ideal cast for that stingy older bachelor. Fantastic was his treatment of the Italian text. Julie Fuchs was an exuberant Norina, her soprano sounded brightly, while she played her role full of verve. The same applies for Konstantin Shushakov as conniving Dottore Malatesta. Only for the very young Mingjei Lei, the role of Don Pasquale`s nephew Ernesto seemed to come a bit too early in his career. His tenor sounded beautiful in all registers, but he could work at his unclear intonation, especially during his difficult scene and aria at the beginning of the second act. The chorus prepared by Ernst Raffelsberger played in this production the party guests invited by Norina. While the singers sounded splendid, much of the humour of Donizetti was lost not representing Norina`s servants as suggested by the libretto. The Philharmonia Zurich under the baton of Enrique Mazzola sounded sometimes too loud, especially during the ouverture.
Nevertheless Mazzola`s tempi contributed a lot to the light and happy atmosphere that was spread on this evening in the opera house. A night that ended with cordial applause for all who participated.
Marco Ziegler (10-12-2019)