Composer: Gaetano Donizetti
Conductor: James Levine
Director: Otto Schenk
Don Pasquale: John De Carlo
Norina: Anna Netrebko
Dr. Malatesta: Mariusz Kwiecien
Ernesto: Matthew Polenzani
Wednesday, November 10, 2010 will come down in my personal history as my first full day as a bona fide New Yorker, and after completing way too many annoying small tasks related to my exciting but exhausting move to the Big Apple, I really felt that I needed to reward myself. I had performances planned at Carnegie Hall and the Avery Fisher Hall that coming weekend, but I suddenly realized that I hadn’t been to the Metropolitan Opera since last season. A quick look at their catalog showed that Don Pasquale was on the program. Now Donizetti’s fun little trifle may not have had enough pull in itself for me to drop everything and go, but the prospect of seeing Anna Netrebko in the role that made her a full-fledge star, not to mention seeing James Levine back on the podium, were for sure enough reasons for me to buy a standing room ticket and look forward to standing on my feet for three hours. After all, being on a tight budget does not necessarily mean forgoing having a life.
One of the last works that Donizetti wrote, Don Pasquale has all the standard elements of the quintessential comic opera: two young people in love, a grumpy old man trying to prevent them from getting married and a smart ass good guy trying to help the distressed couple. Throw in a few witty arias and several downright comical, if occasionally borderline silly, situations, and you have plenty of old-fashioned bubbly entertainment all the way to the unavoidable happy end.
On Wednesday the opera house was packed to the brims and there is little doubt that much celebrated Russian soprano Anna Netrebko had a lot to do with it (No offense to Donizetti or her stage partners). Instantly appropriating the role as if it were her own (which it essentially is anyway) she confidently delivered the goods with her energy-filled physical presence, unwavering comic timing and poised vocal feats. As Norina, the irresistible temperamental-but-good-hearted young widow, she vivaciously strutted her attractive stuff all over the place and easily carried the evening, making me regret that the part did not have more depth for her to sink her obviously more than willing teeth in. But she had a ball with the material at hand and so did we.
Her counterparts shone through as well: As Don Pasquale, John Del Carlo brought warmth and humanity to what could have been just another pathetic, clueless old bachelor, Mariusz Kwiecien capably impersonated the relentless Dr. Malatesta, who seemed to have as much fun helping his friends as coming up with new schemes, and Matthew Polenzani touchingly exuded the right combination of strength, desperation and mischievousness of a hot-blooded young man fighting for his one true love. Together they formed a winning team that kept the story come to life with much gusto.
They got tremendous help in this all-important mission by Donizetti’s highly melodic score, which may have been difficult for them to negotiate at times, but which also strongly emphasizes their characters’ state of mind as well as the story’s twists and turns. The music is generally light and pleasant, but a few meaty arias do place Don Pasquale a notch above the typical comic operas of that time. After making his entrance under much applause, beloved maestro Levine led the orchestra in a perky performance during the first two acts, but alas did not return after intermission. The traditional but engaging production nevertheless basked in a continuous musical glow and ended up being a delightful way for me to start this new season at the Met.