Thoughtfully considered, Donizetti’s Don Pasquale is more cruel than comedic. The title character, annoyed with his nephew Ernesto for refusing the marriage planned for him, decides to marry and thus deprive Ernesto of his inheritance. Don Pasquale’s scheme is foolish, but it hardly merits the vengeance he receives. Ernesto’s friend Dr. Malatesta enlists Ernesto’s beloved Norina to win Don Pasquale’s heart. Following their mock marriage, she becomes a spendthrift and tyrant, until Don Pasquale is happy to give her up to Ernesto. The three young characters end the opera by jeering at the downcast Don Pasquale and pointing out the moral of the story: old people should not get married.
The sets (by Chantal Thomas) and costumes (by Pelly) set the mood. Norina exudes mid-century Italian glamour, with big petticoats and silky gloves. She is so determined to wreak havoc and horrified by Don Pasquale’s outmoded house that she literally turns it upside-down. The exaggerated perspective of the set causes fun visual illusions when it’s inverted (it seems impossible for the doors to fit their frames) and poses amusing challenges for the cast (Ernesto endearingly flails his way through a four-foot-off-the-ground doorway). The overall sense of place is intentionally vague. Singers walk around walls as well as through doors. The roof becomes a gorgeous, starry night sky (with Ernesto defying his terror of heights to place the moon during his third-act serenade).
Giuseppe Finzi led the orchestra in a tireless reading of Donizetti’s score, full of quick tempi and enthusiastic playing. The volume balance between instrumentalists and singers was just right, and minor coordination issues in the first act disappeared as the show went on. Adam Luftman nailed the tricky second-act trumpet solos. The chorus had nothing to do until the final act, and then they looked and sounded appropriately harried. They joined the last scene as neighbors awakened by the din, but they gamely joined Norina in the final rondo. Don Pasquale was left alone to shut his doors against the cruel world, which all seemed to be against him. Not such a funny ending for a harmlessly foolish old man.
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