Matinee. Metropolitan Opera, New York City. MetOpera HD Live. West Springfield, MA Cinemas. Norina, Anna Netrebko; Ernesto, Matthew Polenzani; Dr Malatesta, Mariusz Kwiecien; Don Pasquale, John Del Carlo. Conductor: James Levine
This was the first time that James Levine conducted this comic musical romp by Donizetti. He enjoyed himself as much as if he had done it forty times before. Everybody else enjoyed it just as much, and the illustrious, magically energetic Anna Netrebko had an especially good time, turning backward somersaults onto a chaise longue and double-timing the susceptible John Del Carlo as Don Pasquale, who himself completely embodied the classic foolish old man intent on marrying a beautiful young wife.
I’m not sure there’s a great deal to say about this production. The four principals listed above did all they needed to do to keep this rousing musical romp (there, I’ve used the word “romp” twice already, but that’s really what it is) racing along at a lively pace. This may not sound like a comic opera so much as a Broadway farce, and yet comic opera it is surely, with wonderful music sung by first-rate professionals. The tenor, Matthew Polenzani, as Ernesto, had a particularly winning voice, not reedy at all, as is the case with some Italian tenors (it was, alas, the case with the late Pavarotti), but pure and mellifluous. Anna Netrebko has a gorgeous soprano, and a faultless technique that allows her to be as energetic and fast-moving as she needs to be while still having plenty of breath left to sing the challenging music that Donizetti expertly provides.
I have to add that I think the libretto falters toward the end. The scene in the garden gives us a lovely serenade of Norina by Ernesto, lovely to hear, but as far as the action is concerned it’s all too pat and easily accomplished, almost anti-climactic. We know what’s going to happen: Don Pasquale becomes the victim of transparent deceit, and then, finding out about his all too grievous mistake, all of a sudden becomes warmly reconciled and, “with good humor,” as the plot summary says, gives the couple his blessing and, all too suddenly, readily agrees that “marriage is not for an old man.” Well, that, of course, is how a plot like this has to end. But you could add a little comic drama by making it a bit more difficult for Don Pasquale to give in and accede to the inevitability.
So be it. Finally, who cares? Netrebko is an erotic delight to watch. It sets you to wondering whether she is as good at “romping” offstage as she is on. John Del Carlo has something of a chequered history, a Google of his name informed me (it seems he withdrew from a Santa Fe Opera production, for reasons undisclosed). But he was just fine as the shortsighted old Don Pasquale, timing little bits of business to coincide with emphatic music from the orchestra pit — a way of almost kidding the script, so to speak, and adding to the knowingness of the production style and thereby enriching the audience’s pleasure. “You know and I know,” this kind of acting seems to say, “that this is frank artifice, and don’t you just love it?”
And we did just love it.