Donizetti - Don Pasquale

La Monnaie, Brussels, Sunday December 23 2018

Conductor: Alain Altinoglu. Production and costumes: Laurent Pelly. Sets: Chantal Thomas. Lighting: Duane Schuler. Don Pasquale: Pietro Spagnoli. Dottor Malatesta: Rodion Pogossov. Ernesto: Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani. Norina: Anne-Catherine Gillet. Un Notaro: Alessandro Abis. La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

Like Beethoven advising Rossini but at my much less exalted level, I'd be quite happy if Donizetti had stuck to comic operas. Laurent Pelly's production of Don Pasquale, already seen in San Diego and Barcelona, was an unpretentiously and undemandingly good-humoured way to end the operatic year just before Christmas.

The set was simple: Don Pasquale's house in the middle of a square, with, to right and left, walls of doors, windows and shutters, all grey, and to the rear, nothing. The house rotated to reveal the Don's living room, bare but for his high, button-backed leather armchair and an elaborate central ceiling light with globes, and rotated again to show us Norina's largely unfurnished (except for piles of books, boxes, LPs and clothes) flat with its wallpaper as elaborately patterned as Don Pasquale"s was strait-laced. The costumes were the now standard postwar issue.

After the sham wedding, Don Pasquale's world was turned literally upside-down, with his armchair on the ceiling and what now looked like an elaborate standard lamp, with globes, in the middle of the floor. Norina, by this time in an orange, stiffly-petticoated chiffon dress and long silk gloves, soon had the house filled with red, orange and pink armchairs, more Scandinavian-modern in design than the Don's old club chair, and bouquets of red and orange flowers.

The acting was well-directed and perfectly pitched, with no farce, just good visual jokes often timed to match an accent in the score, done by an excellent team cast, in which Spagnoli, something of a specialist in comic roles, was as professional a Don Pasquale, vocally and comically, as you might expect and Rodion Pogossov a very engaging discovery as the efficient, neatly-suited (in brown) Malatesta. Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani was more than adequate as a physically-plausible young Ernesto, though it did occur to me that he would be less à propos in a tragic role. Anne-Catherine Gillet sparkled as usual as a comic actress, leading the dance with note-perfect brio. But it was interesting to find that her timbre is darkening and softening round the ages, so I wondered if she'd originally been cast for her "old" voice, which would have had welcome brightness, rather than her newer, more velvety one.

This was all very much to the good, but for once the stars of the afternoon judging by the clapometer were Alain Altinoglu, clearly at his liveliest peak in this repertoire, and his orchestra, cheered even from the end of the overture and cheered even louder and longer at the curtain calls.

A very entertaining pre-Christmas show.

Here, Maestro Wenarto nails "Com'è gentil" with his usual flair.


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