Concerts & Opera

A superb musical comedy



Donizetti's opera Don Pasquale at Vienna State Opera conducted by Evelino Pidò

Gaetano Donizetti’s humorous opera Don Pasquale, with its sweet melodies and beautiful arias, is a piece that even people who are not very interested in opera can enjoy. I personally have seen some classical interpretations, as well as contemporary ones. There were ones that I liked and also those that I endured till the end thanks to the music. However, İrina Brook’s production which was put on stage at the Vienna State Opera and premiered last year I suppose, is one of the good examples of how a humorous opera can be transformed into a beautiful contemporary interpretation, by exaggerating a little but not making it look foolish. 

Don Pasquale production which was staged by the legendary director Peter Brook’s daughter İrina Brook, is embellished with original ideas, fine details, amusing, but never going overboard like Boulevard theatre and very cleverly thought out scenes. The curtain opens up to a night club (may also be a restaurant) in which dark green colour is dominant and during Overture, an old waiter who seems to be working at the place is running around; a heavily drunk customer being tossed out, and little incidents like these are seen. Serious atmosphere of the night club changes and becomes colourful after Don Pasquale and Norina get married. When we look at the tiger skin patterned chairs, fuchsia cloths and ornaments, photograph of a man in a swimsuit hanging on the wall and numerous similar details, we understand that Norina put across her giddy tastes to her husband. In front of this extraordinary, frivolous and flirtatious character (Norina), Don Pasquale brings out a good balance by being a character who tries to make himself likeable, is a little funny, and who acts a little flirtatious for his own size and is hot-blooded. A more mature but somewhat funny character is portrayed for the other two important roles (Ernesto and Dr. Malatesta). In Act 3, which is the most striking scene of the production in both metaphoric and real sense, everything gets out of hand and the piece hits the top with a scene that can be called as “kitsch”: plants in huge pots, glistening with light bulbs; a hand drawn-like moon in the sky and a giant star across; a night time setting where pink/purple colours are dominant. And the entrance of Don Pasquale with his rotten egg yolk coloured jacket, holding a butterfly net (came to catch the two lovers). There couldn’t have been a more humorous scene, matching with the music and theme.  

The 7th performance of İrina Brook’s production Don Pasquale opera that I watched on the evening of April 15 had four Aces:  replacing the Italian baritone Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Michele Pertusi played an unforgettable character in Don Pasquale. He is an artist with marvelous talent who has a sweet, lyrical bass voice that can easily reach high tones. Act 1 aria “Ah, un foco insolita”; his duet with Malatesta in Act 3 “Cheti, cheti immantinente” were a feast to ears. Adam Plachetka, who marked his Vienna State Opera stage debut was remarkable as Dr. Malatesta with his cunning, cynic character, strong and colourful baritone voice, stage performance, smooth pronunciation and accents and musicality of his voice. The duet, mixed with dance, which he performed with Don Pasquale in front of the curtain naturally received a big applause from the audience. The reason that the young Czech baritone’s name is being mentioned more and more is obvious. Moldavian lyrical soprano Valentina Nafornita fit perfectly for the role of Norina in terms of her voice, acting and also her appearance. Nafornita is very natural and cute; she reaches clear high notes easily, and has a sweet and strong declamation; even though she remained slightly in the background in medium and lower notes where the orchestra played energetically, this shimmering soprano with no pushing whatsoever (“Quel guardo il cavaliere”) was a successful Norina in every sense.

Identified with the role of Ernesto on world stages, the loved tenor Juan Diego Florez was another Ace of the night. Although his voice has deepened a little more over the years, it’s still soft, flexible and it preserves its perfection. One can notice this beauty even when he is cutting his high notes short like he is trying to protect his voice. He demonstrated his lyrical voice’s all beauties in Act 1 aria (“Sogno soave e casto”); in the poetic (“Cercherò lontana terra”) aria of Act 2 that he sang by a  table, in company of the trumpet player’s (Gerhard Berndl) soulful solo – trumpet player who was on stage- and in the famous last Act aria (“Com’è gentil…”). In this last aria (“Com’è gentil”), director İrina Brook almost made a reference to the singers in the 50’s American shows who sang while dancing with their microphones: Juan Diego Florez sings his aria all the while doing pirouettes; with two “Mexicans” following him behind his back with their typical hats and guitars and with Florez’s kneeling on one knee at the end of the song, the production’s buffa element became completely emphasized.  

Vienna State Opera Orchestra, conducted by the conductor Evelino Pidò proved how they could easily switch from previous evening’s heavy Slavic style to Mediterranean style with a perfect performance by delivering Donizetti’s vibrant and feathery music properly.    

Ayşe Öktem

Photos: Ashley Taylor



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