In Review > International

Don Pasquale

VIENNA
Wiener Staatsoper
5/2/15

In Review Vienna Don Giovanni hdl 815
Flórez, Nafornita and Pertusi in Vienna’s Don Pasquale
© Wiener Staatsoper/Michael Poehn 2015

Last season, Irina Brook served up a middling Elisir d’Amore for Deutsche Oper Berlin. Roughly a year later, the British director — daughter of the legendary Peter Brook and actress Natasha Parry — tackled Donizetti’s other comedic masterpiece Don Pasquale at the Wiener Staatsoper, with infinitely more success (seen May 2). 

The one commonality between the two stagings was a meta-theatrical element; Brook cast both her heroines as thespians. But while this formed a major trope in L’Elisir, with Adina’s acting troupe a frequent onstage presence, here Brook was content to limit this to Norina’s first scene, set in her backstage dressing room. Pasquale, for his part, owned a classically upscale bar/nightclub that Norina turned into a kitsch palace of hot pink and leopard prints in Act II. 

There wasn’t anything very deep going on (we are talking about Pasquale after all), but Brook showed an impeccable theatrical verve and directed her cast to wondrously comedic effect. In doing so, she made her elegant, witty production a worthy showcase for the killer cast that the Staatsoper assembled for this premiere.

Headlining this run was star tenor Juan Diego Flórez, whose portrayal of Ernesto is familiar and beloved. He did not disappoint his audience; yet precisely because his Ernesto is such a well-known quantity, Flórez was, if not quite eclipsed by his costars, somewhat less exciting by comparison. At forty-two, his lush voice is smooth and supple, his high notes still thrilling, but the voice is a touch heavier, and that high B-flat at the end of “Cercherò lontana terra” doesn’t seem quite as effortless as it once did. Still, there was plenty of evidence — his sweetness of tone, even vibrato, expressive urgency and carefully regulated breathing — that he is unmatched in this role.  

So much of Pasquale depends on Norina. Singing the role, the young Moldavian soprano Valentina Nafornita stole the show, with a tantalizingly lush and expressive account that never lacked for dramatic inspiration or musical intelligence. With an alluring balance of girlish and mature colorings, she cast a seductive spell. It also didn’t hurt that Nafornita, an ensemble member here since 2011, is ravishingly beautiful. She was by turns delicate, coy, frothy and brazen. Only against the full orchestra was her delicate midrange difficult to hear — for instance, when Norina lists her demands after the sham marriage with Pasquale at the end of Act II. 

The orchestra overpowered Italian baritone Michele Pertusi during “Ah, un foco insolita,” but once a kinder balance between stage and pit had been negotiated, Pertusi made an indelible impression in the title role. Throughout the evening, he offered great acting, comic timing and an all-around dynamic approach to the vocal and dramatic demands (and opportunities) of the part. There are certainly more mellifluous Pasquales out there, but I’d be hard pressed to find another singer who can so successfully combine technical virtuosity with such holistic understanding of this character’s buffo and melancholy sides.

The cast’s catalogue of wonders continued with Alessio Arduini, the charismatic Italian baritone who was the evening’s Malatesta. A wry and wily presence, he made a strong impression both solo, as in his creamy “Bella siccome un angelo,” and in the duets — “Vado, corro,” with Norina, and “Cheti, cheti, immantinente,” with Pasquale. The second of these brought down the house with a riotous vaudeville-style top-hat-and-cane dance in front of the curtain. (Amusingly, Nafornita and Arduini were coupled at last year’s Salzburg Festival as Zerlina and Masetto in the new Don Giovanni. Arduini was perfect for the role, while Nafornita was sadly miscast, Zerlina being an entirely wrong part for a voice of her caliber).

Switching gears from the previous night’s account of Eugene Onegin,the Staatsoper’s orchestra tore into Donizetti’s vivacious, tune-infested score. Jesús López-Cobos exaggerated extremes of tempo in the overture, immediately establishing a terrifically wild sense of drama that never let up. The musicians were fleet and alert, contributing immeasurably to a performance that was very close to perfection. spacer

A. J. GOLDMANN

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