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Don Pasquale

Teatro Real

In Review Don Pasquale hdl 813
Don Pasquale in Madrid, with Alaimo and Buratto
© Javier del Real 2013

Riccardo Muti has been one of the star "regular guests" that Gerard Mortier has invited to Madrid since he took over the artistic direction of the Teatro Real three years ago. Last year, Muti came to Madrid with his Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini (an ensemble of promising Italian artists) for a fast, furious and funny yet historically fastidious presentation of Saverio Mercadante's Due Figaro, a rare sequel to Mozart's Nozze di Figaro

The opera, a discovery of Muti's, had not been heard in Spain since Mercadante's days at the Madrid court in the 1820s. The "Mercadante project" was to continue this year with La Rappresaglia, an opera that was actually composed in Spain. But the fiscal crisis struck Spain, and Mortier and Muti ended up bringing to Madrid a Don Pasquale that Muti had produced for the Ravenna Festival (seen May 19). 

This Pasquale proved to be a huge success in Madrid: it served to show Maestro Muti in one of his trademark operas — it was with Don Pasquale that he bowed at the Salzburg Festival in 1971, and the piece has been with him ever since — and offered perfect material to show off the strengths of Muti's young singers and instrumentalists, who exhibited freshness, ebullience, vigor, precision and an impressive care of idiomatic expression. For decades Muti has been a staunch defender of the "Neapolitan sound," and in this youthful orchestra, the child of his talent and will, he seems to have created a proper vehicle for it.

The production of Don Pasquale, by young Italian director Andrea De Rosa, focuses the action in a small, square, wooden elevation at the center of the stage. It's the hall of the rich bachelor's house all the way until the last scene, when the few, carefully chosen props disappear together with the back wall to give way to the garden where Malatesta, Norina and Ernesto lift their masks and teach Don Pasquale the bitter lesson: an older man can find only frustration in the arms of a young wife. 

As the action progresses, all the singers sit onstage around the wooden platform. When their turn comes to appear, they grab the clothes and disguises hanging beside them and become part of the action. This simple device of theater-within-the-theater and the effective acting of a young, committed cast worked well to give this late dramma buffa, almost an anachronism when composed in 1843, its proper commedia dell'arte flavor. 

Young Neapolitan baritone Nicola Alaimo produced a superb Don Pasquale. He did not even attempt to play the usual version of comic senility that is so hard for young singers; instead, he used his burly frame to portray another version of the inadequate lover. His powerful, malleable voice and expressive face created a multi-layered character, not ridiculed but defeated by stronger forces. 

Alessandro Luongo used his light, elegant baritone to impressive effect as the oily schemer Malatesta; and silvery-toned light tenor Dmitry Korchak (the only non-Italian in the cast) was believable as the dim-witted object of Norina's affection. As the down-to-earth signorina who plays the ingénue suddenly transformed into a monster, Eleonora Buratto shone with a precise, melting mezza voce and the exact tone of understated parody. 

With simple means, this Don Pasquale looked and sounded at once modern in its care for detail and style and old-fashioned in its serious take on the story. In the Teatro Real's small and superficial pit, Riccardo Muti could be seen from the waist up, controlling everything and dancing to the music. It was hard not to think of him as the master puppeteer of it all. It was his show, and it was an unqualified success. spacer


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