Damiano Michieletto's rather swish production of Donizetti’s late, great opera buffa, Don Pasquale has made its way back to The Royal Opera for the first revival since its debut in 2019. With a fresh cast and some dynamism in the pit, it delivers a solid punch (as well as a resounding slap), but there are still certain issues in Michieletto's concept – however well executed – that leave a slightly acidic aftertaste.

Lucio Gallo (Don Pasquale) and Pretty Yende (Norina)
© ROH | Bill Cooper

The set remains engaging and there is much to enjoy in the enforced renovations of the Pasquale mansion which convert the furnishings from grandfather chic to IKEA bonanza. In an enlightening programme note, mention is made of how the removal of this aged figure from his comfortable surroundings into an austere show-home is an act by Norina focused at “destroying any local control over his environment”. There’s a certain irony, too, for Michieletto to stage a work with deceit and deception at its centre in a set with the walls stripped away and the shadows dispersed by blazing strip lights. Norina’s twin aspects of glamour and (comparative) poverty are neatly captured in her role as a cameraman’s assistant, glumly helping with wardrobe choices for the stars she seeks to replace and seizing any opportunity for a moment in front of the camera.

Pretty Yende, Andrzej Filończyk, Lucio Gallo and Xabier Anduaga
© ROH | Bill Cooper

Where this production – and particularly revival – fails is in the removal of any real compassion the audience may feel for the lecherous Pasquale. The most successful productions of this opera add layers to the character, be it simple sympathy for an old man who should know his time romping in the hay is at an end, or the suggestion of real affection for Ernesto. Michieletto's Pasquale is a peevish, unpleasant bully which makes the action of the opera nothing more than an exercise in just desserts. The occasional hint of something more – effected by a young boy in the signature Pasquale dressing-gown closely escorted by his mother – is not developed enough to offer any tangible significance.

A slightly chilly production then, but warmed by some first-rate singing from the principals. Lucio Gallo had plenty of energy as the titular Don, singing the role with a solid and mellow baritone. His duet with Malatesta in Act 3 provided one of the strongest moments in the evening when he fired out the patter song without any loss of strength or quality. There were moments, though, when he struggled to maintain audibility over the orchestra and the conceptual issues mentioned above left him a slightly under-directed figure. 

Lucio Gallo (Don Pasquale) and Andrzej Filończyk (Malatesta)
© ROH | Bill Cooper

Pretty Yende is no stranger to the role of Norina and her singing alone here merits the acquisition of a ticket. She is fast becoming one of the finest players in bel canto and delivered a masterclass in this repertoire, showing complete control over her instrument. It’s not the biggest of voices, but the agility at the very top – trills tossed with ease, rounded high notes, generous delivery – combined with her projection and that delightful tone that manages to be both delicate and rich was simply a delight to hear. What a joy, too, to see such a mirthful performance: Yende threw herself into the humour of the performance, really hamming it up in her scenes with Pasquale and delivering some eminently Instagrammable pouts.

Xabier Anduaga (Ernesto)
© ROH | Bill Cooper

Xabier Anduaga lacked direction as Ernesto, a character never particularly dynamic at the best of times, but vocally more than compensated, showing off a fine lyric tenor in those two superb arias: a ringing top, paired with a keen sense of line and an affinity for the diminuendo left one wishing to hear more. Andrzej Filończyk sang Malatesta with a suave, velvety baritone, registers integrated and articulation on point. Giacomo Sagripanti conducted the orchestra in an occasionally mannered interpretation in the pit; a highspeed opening to the overture led into some slightly exaggerated tempi and there were balance issues at times where the orchestra seemed to be let loose at the expense of the singers. That said, it was a vigorous take on the score and Sagripanti seemed to capture the humour in the writing with ease, something perhaps lacking elsewhere in the production.