fri 20/09/2019

Don Pasquale, Royal Opera | reviews, news & interviews

Don Pasquale, Royal Opera

Don Pasquale, Royal Opera

Serviceable revival of a sketchy Jonathan Miller production brings no surprises

No surprises from Íride Martínez and Barry Banks as young lovers pardoned by uncle Don Pasquale (Paolo Gavanelli)Catherine Ashmore

Anticipating revivals of productions that were hardly vivacious in the first place, you can always find reasons to hope. Perhaps there'll be a dazzling house debut. Maybe someone, preferably the revival director, will bring a more focused individual zest to the kind of rough character sketches Jonathan Miller leaves flailing around his beautifully conceived historic locales. Not on this occasion. Singing and conducting were never less than accomplished, but only half-hearted titters from a sparse audience greeted the inhabitants of Miller's opera buffa toytown - more dullsville than doll's house.

So this won't take long - unlike Donizetti's romantic comedy, which can seem interminable if its post-Rossinian brio isn't spruced up and buoyantly focused. Once you've looked around the six rooms and staircase of Isabella Bywater's model merchant's house, finely detailed and crisply lit by Jvan Morandi, you wait patiently for the plot to start rollicking. Sir Jonathan has always been able to talk about these kinds of commedia dell'arte characters - silly old man, scheming young lovers, resourceful intermediary - and he did bring them to life in his long-serving ENO production of Rossini's Barber of Seville. But here revival director Daniel Dooner is just left to go through the motions.

Ageing bachelor Pasquale worships the Rembrandt-or-followers portrait of his mother (hence the Dutch-genre interiors of an 18th-century gentleman's home). He's sung by Paolo Gavanelli with a baritonal bleat reminiscent of the over-rated Rolando Panerai, not much of a lower register and only an approximate assumption of the patter that should set the liveliest duet in the opera, "Cheti, cheti", bouncing. Bring back Alessandro Corbelli, true master of this style. Gavanelli's duo partner in this is the Jiminy Cricket-like Doctor Dulcamara of Jacques Imbrailo - dapper, but with too fast a vibrato to phrase his first cavatina with the Italianate breadth it needs.

The lovers, too, can be smart, but only Barry Banks is sweet, more than a match for the consummate orchestral trumpet solo in the forlorn Act Two aria where he does nothing much with a giant pair of scissors and a teddy bear. Despite an interval announcement of an allergic reaction, he ended up sounding as ideally light-Italian-tenor fresh as he'd started. Íride Martínez, appearing at the Royal Opera for the first time, has a good instinct for comedy, impersonating the harridan wife "Sophronia", but you really want a young and fruity minx of a Norina, and Martínez's voice, with its useful coloratura, has no hint of nubile sensuousness.

Conductor Evelino Pidò gives them springy support, and freedom when they need it, but even a reasonably sparkling orchestra doesn't quite lift the evening. This perfectly fine vocal quartet might have made more of their tergiversations, but that would have needed a Laurent Pelly or a Caurier/ Leiser approach to set up the gags, and I'd suggest either if and when Covent Garden plans another Don Pasquale.

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I can hardly believe this was the same performance as I saw ... if you want something 'interminable' see Miller's 'Cosi' also on in repertory with this 'Pasquale' for which punters had to pay up to £200. The evening flashed by and was simply - and however trite this seems - a joyful operatic evening ... and relatively cheap with a top price of £155!! With Jonathan Miller sitting next to Daniel Dooner he obviously had a eye on this revival as well as his 'Cosi'. Although - or perhaps because - the house had been papered to fill even more potentially empty seats there were more 'titters' - hearted or half - than with 'Cosi'. I found the quartet of singers totally engaging and with none of the problems assigned to them in this review. The problem is that Gavanelli's voice is just a little too LOW for the role - a bit like Tomlinson singing Ochs. I do think much fun was had by all. Your musical knowledge is immense and I couldn't have agreed more about 'Francesca da Rimini' however this if not a true reflection on the evening. Perhaps the pressure of posting overnight for 'The Arts Desk' does not allow time for such 'true reflection' - and at times may require a certain amount of writing about a performance in advance?

Well, Joseph, there's no accounting for mood, is there. But I NEVER write about anything 'in advance' and I'd argue that Don Pasquale is about immediacy and not reflection. I do try to steer clear of that major critical pitfall in which the mind is made up by the interval - as Simon Callow pointed out in "Being an Actor", surprising things can happen late in the proceedings and sometimes the end crowns the work. Not for me here, though. It's a true reflection of my experience, and that of some of those around me.

I have to agree with Joseph, was this really the same performance? I loved it and it really did fly by - at the interval I was completely convinced that I had only seen Act 1, purely because it did not feel like I had been watching for 80 minutes. I thought Iride Martinez was delightful, really charming and captured the humour of the role. I found Paolo Gavenelli slightly muzzy sound wise, but my husband was very impressed with him and I have to agree his acting was great. I really felt that Barry Banks struggled in the first act - when we discussed it in the interval my husband and I both thought that he seemed to not really be 'in' the role and the singing was not as vibrant as I would have liked. However in the third act, after the announcement of an allergic reaction, we thought that he was much more relaxed and natural in the role - we came to the conclusion that the allergic reaction may have occurred during the first/second act and that he had treatment during the interval and was getting better. I would also like to say that I loved the Doctor, Jacques Imbrailo, he has a lovely light quality to his voice and for me was the best singer on the night. The house was quite empty and the laughter did not ring true. Yes the show is amusing, but really I think that people laugh to show that they got the joke. All in all I loved Don Pasquale. It was a lighthearted pantomime, as often with opera there was barely a story, but the music was charming and pacy, and the action swept along nicely. I also love the doll's house, it's great to see so much action on stage, and it must be shattering for the company running up and down 4 flights of stairs every 20 minutes.

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