While the majority of the Royal Opera company are singing and playing their hearts out in Tokyo in grand Verdi, a skeleton crew remain on Bow Street , with two stalwart productions revived by their original director Jonathan Miller. Following hot on the heels of the once-Armani Così fan tutte, on Sunday Miller and associate director Daniel Dooner staged the second revival of their 2004 Don Pasquale, first seen at the Maggio Musicale, Florence in 2001.
There are a number of similarities between Così and Don Pasquale with an even smaller number of principal singers (four here to Così’s six, though with a small part for a notary) and only an occasional chorus. There’s a baritone manipulator – here Dr Malatesta to Così’s Don Alfonso – and a lesson to be taught; here, in essence, an old man’s jealousy at his nephew’s youth.
There’s even a hint at The Marriage of Figaro , especially in the Royal Opera’s own David McVicar production, with servants ever present – and a whole lot more in the second half after Norina (as Malatesta’s supposed sister, Sofronia) has spent a sizeable part of Don Pasquale’s annual income. Curious though are the anachronistic Versace boxes that signify her spending spree, given that everything else is echt-period.
However Miller’s productions differ remarkably: from Così’s pastel set to Don Pasquale’s doll’s house on three levels, delineating six rooms, with a tripartite central stair case. Isabella Bywater’s beautifully recreated designs include two four poster beds; Ernesto’s on the top floor, Don Pasquale’s on the middle floor with the servants’ quarters and kitchen underneath.
While idly wondering why the front of the house only has two rows of windows for a three-floored house, once the doors are opened and the set moves forward, the interplay between the four main characters does, over time, seem to get lost in such a grand design. All the cast are new to the roles here, and although nicely sung and acted, seemed to get lost in the towering set.
They break the confines of the set for the final scene as Don Pasquale heads out with Malatesta in tow to apprehend Sofronia in her suspected assignation, but this rather abrupt climax is acted out on an empty stage, reversing the problem of the action in the doll’s house.
There’s nothing unlikable about it all really, but on this Sunday night (a rare Royal Opera occurrence) there was definitely a certain pizzazz missing. Evelino Pidò, taking over from the late Sir Charles Mackerras (strange there was no mention at all about Mackerras in the programme) took a while to warm up, so the overture was tentative and slightly scrappy, but by the second half the small band was acquitting itself well.
Paulo Gavinelli was all bald-headed bluster, a world away from his malevolent Rigoletto, but small compared to his huge red-covered bed. Barry Banks, even with the announcement after the interval of his suffering an allergic reaction, was sweet-toned and plausible as Ernesto, while Jaques Imbrailo repaid the House’s commitment to him as a former Jette Parker Young Artist as Dr Malatesta, even though he couldn’t emulate the effect of his playing Billy Budd at Glyndebourne this summer.
Costa Rican soprano Íride Martínez made a pleasing House debut as Norina, rather pale in character in the first half, but more full blooded in the second, as she swapped her pastel dress for a richer darker one. I think she rather enjoyed bossing Don Pasquale around, and I suspect her presence will blossom during the run of this revival.
- Nick Breckenfield