Dramma buffo in three acts in Italian
Libretto by Giovanni Ruffini and the composer
Freely adapted from the play Epicoene, or The Silent Woman, by Ben Jonson
Director: Sir Thomas Allen
Conductor: Stephen Lord
Fabulous bel canto riches become an endless stream of rich melodies
Donizetti’s delightful Don Pasquale (1842), which opened today at Chicago’s Lyric Opera, is an embarrassment of bel canto riches, with a seemingly endless stream of glorious Italian melodies wedded to a lighthearted yet often witty comedic plot about an elderly man who gets more trouble than he bargained for when he decides in his 70s to finally get married. In doing so, he hopes to start a family of his own and thus get an excuse to disinherit his nephew Ernesto, who is in love with the widow Norina and refuses to marry the woman his uncle has picked out for him. Ernesto, Norina, and Pasquale’s friend Dr. Malatesta conspire to teach the old man a lesson and get him to consent to the marriage of Ernesto and Norina; Norina poses as Malatesta’s sister who is to be married to Pasquale, and once she “marries” him in a mock ceremony designed by Malatesta, she torments him until he is at the mercy of the plotters. But by the conclusion, all concerned learn that all’s well that ends well.
All of the principal signers gave marvelous performances, giving their all without overwhelming their essentially comic roles. Italian bass-baritone Ildebrando D’Archangelo was not afraid to ham it up as the gullible title character and brought out his bumbling side quite well. Norina was sung quite beautifully (and feistily when called for) by German soprano Marlis Petersen. Two alumni of the Ryan Opera Center, the Lyric’s program for promising young singers, also made excellent showings: Corey Crider as Dr. Malatesta and René Barbera as Ernesto. Barbera’s performance, in particular, was one of the production’s most memorable; his expressive and tonal range ran the gamut from gentle intimacy to power with total commitment throughout.
Conductor Stephen Lord led a tasteful account of the always lyrical and often very buoyant score; the fine orchestra compensated for some deficiency in precision with real warmth and sensitivity in Donizetti’s winsome melodies. The woodwinds played particularly beautifully throughout the opera. The intricate set, lavish yet elegant, originated at London’s Covent Garden and perfectly reflected the sensibility and local color of the opera.
With its gently giddy comedy and plentiful supply of highly accessible and gorgeous music, Don Pasquale is sure to delight anyone who appreciates Italian opera. And if you’re new to the world of opera, this enchanting Lyric production would make a perfect introduction.
Date Reviewed: November 25, 2012
Lyric Opera’s production of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale runs through December 15 at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive; $34-$259; www.lyricopera.org; running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes with one intermission