This Don Pasquale was a witty, agile piece of opera buffa, and the San Carlo audience got the nimble lyrical music of Donizetti in a flawless performance, both by individuals and ensemble. The theme is a classic one in comic opera: the laughable efforts of two young lovers to get married, despite the disapproval of an elderly kinsman. But in Donizetti’s opera (which the composer defined a dramma buffo) there is more than a shade of bitterness. Director Roberto De Simone put this aside, though: his 1991 staging was cheerful from start to finish, to the point of sacrificing any empathetic view of the character of Don Pasquale, as he reduced as much as possible the melancholic vein flowing in both the score and the libretto. The director took the utmost care of comic timing in every role on stage, instead, with subtle psychological observation and refined wit, but no soppiness, and no guffaws either.

This light reading was steadfastly grounded on Paolo Bordogna’s powerful characterisation of the title role, as he was able to realise what Donizetti intended: amusement at his foolishness and sympathy for his subsequent troubles. He delivered “Un foco insolito" with fine self- deception, as he walked about the stage looking forward to recapture his youth by marrying a young wife. Bordogna made a really big impression with his massive basso, comic flair and strong personality.

Barbara Bargnesi showed an agile, light soprano as Norina, with her bright high notes, and she safely got through the hazardous coils of coloratura. With theatrical verve, she credibly played first the innocent girl tricking Bordogna into marriage, then turned into “a shrew, but with a heart!”, in Donizetti’s words.  

Antonino Siragusa made an attractive Ernesto, singing his serenade “Com’è gentil” with an amiable lyric tenor. He played not the classic broke young lover, but a man who sings his ardent love with a sweet line of singing, He also beautifully sang and appealingly acted his Act II aria, “Povero Ernesto”. But the finest musical moment he contributed was the love duet with Norina, Tornami a dir che m'ami”, in which Siragusa’s slightly sharp timbre left no doubt that he is a true bel canto love struck tenor.

Mario Cassi was a rather delightful Malatesta, and he rendered the role with appropriate flair. Cassi possesses a polite stage presence and a sound but adaptable baritone. He read Ernesto’s letter with expressive, even hilarious overemphasis, and contributed solidly in the duets and ensembles.

The part of the Notary was sung by Rosario Natale, and this small role gave him little opportunity for characterisation. The choral role in the opera is also small, nonetheless the San Carlo Chorus showed good vocal precision and expression with some excellent dynamics, thus making a very positive contribution.

De Simone’s staging concept was perfectly supported by Nicola Rubertelli's smart sets, which had at its centre a revolving structure, a sort of doll’s house in art nouveau style, surrounded by marble neoclassical statues. Zaira De Vincentiis’ costumes were also fit for the setting.

Conductor Christopher Franklin was totally compliant with the director's ideas, as he set cheerful tempos throughout the piece, and Orchestra del Teatro di San Carlo responded with precision and excellent balance.