In a mere quarter-of-a-century Gaetano Donizetti (1797 – 1848) managed to compose over sixty operas as well as a quantity of church music, string quartets etcetera. There were a few duds but mostly it was a success story, particularly the tragedy Lucia di Lammermoor and the comic L’Elisir d’Amore and Don Pasquale. A revival of the last-named had its first night on Sunday, September 12, part of what seems to be a Jonathan Miller residence – Cosi on the Friday and Donizetti on Sunday. In a review of the Mozart, the worthy doctor was commended for not committing the besetting sin of comedy direction: more motion than action, i.e. fidgeting. But it now appears that Jonathan was saving up his fidgets for Pasquale.
The design is credited to Isabelle Bywater but there can be little doubt that Miller inspired the theme. The audience is faced with three floors of a vast dollhouse, three rooms on each side with a central staircase. Traffic is fairly continuous (and ingenious) and the staircase is a kind of perpetuum mobile Upstairs-Downstairs. Apart from the four principals there are three old crones/servants.
Somewhere somebody has listed thirty-six plots which are the basis of most dramas and operas. Don Pasquale is apparently number twenty-eight, the one about the old buffer who weds a girl who behaves like a dove but turns into a hawk as soon as the marriage certificate is signed; she usually ends up with the buffer’s nephew. That is the plot of Pasquale with subplots consisting of a false notary (!) and the buffer’s manipulating friend, Malatesta. Norina reverts to dove status when she falls into the arms of Ernesto the nephew (a tenor, wouldn’t you know).
The music is a delight, genial, a bounty box choc-á-bloc with choice tunes, deft orchestration, great opportunities for the singers with much coloratura and patter in arias and ensembles (even a couple of fine chorus numbers) of impeccable style and shape.
Costa Rican soprano Irida Martinez has a clear voice and no little charm (but her second dress is unbecoming), Paolo Gavinelli is superb in the title-role, S. African Jacques Imbrailo is a marvellous Malatestra. American Berry Banks has been opera’s otto cento bel canto stalwart for yonks but can still get round the notes like nobody’s business even if the voice is losing its sap somewhat. He must be the smallest tenor in captivity. He sang the famous Serenade in the last act quite mellifluously.
Chorus and orchestra helped to make the evening full of pleasure directed by Evalino Pido from Turin, a performance with good tampi, style, precision accompaniment, the only let down was the brash brass playing. Maestro Pido would appear to be one of many conductors who confuses volume with intensity.
Alas, Don Pasquale, premiered in Paris in 1843, proved to be the penultimate opera by the Lion of Bergamo for shortly afterwards he became ill. Syphilis brought on insanity and he was also a prey to onanism which weakened him so much that it could be said that Donizetti died by his own hand.