Gaetano Donizetti - Don Pasquale (2005) [DVD9 NTSC]
Video: 16:9 NTSC
Audio: PCM Stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1
Subtitles. It(original language), Gb, D, F, SP
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Don Pasquale, an elderly and well-off bachelor - Claudio Desderi (bass); Ernesto, ardent but impecunious suitor of Norina – Francisco Gatell (ten); Norina, an impulsive, but sensitive, young widow - Laura Giordano (sop); Doctor Malatesta, extremely resourceful and jocular doctor. Friend of Pasquale and closer friend of Ernesto – Mario Cassi (bar)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Municipale Piacenza/Riccardo Muti
Recorded live in the Teatro Alighieri, Ravenna, Italy, Ravenna Festival, 2006
Director: Andrea De Rosa; Set Design: Italo Grassi; Costimes: Gabriella Pescucci; Lighting: Pasquale Mari
Sound Format: PCM stereo, DD 5.1 DTS 5.1. Picture Format: 16:9.
Menu languages: English, German, French, Spanish. Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish. Notes and synopsis in English, German, French
Comparisons are inevitable: conductor Riccardo Muti has piloted two prior commercial releases of what seems to be a favorite opera of his, the first audio (Freni, Winbergh, Nucci, Bruscantini; Philharmonia; EMI, 1984), the second video (Focile, Kunde, Gallo, Furlanetto; La Scala; TDK, 1994). I have written a favorable review on this site for the '94 Scala production, and the positive changes I detected in the maestro's contribution -- looser, wittier, more elegant and playful than on '84 Philharmonia -- remain in evidence on this new '06 Ravenna staging. The youthful Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini gives everything it has under this sharp-eared taskmasker. It would be unfair to expect from these young players the last degree of polish and brilliance of the Scala Orchestra as that ensemble had been transformed by 1994 (for example, there is a suavity and finish to various exposed solos in Scala '94 that is still some ways down the road for Ravenna '06); but these are matters that only need concern the connoisseur. To put the finest point on it, one will search long and hard for such a well-run race by a youthful orchestra through the intricacies and felicites of DON PASQUALE as the one we have here. The sound recording quality is excellent -- whether it is "better" than that on '94 Scala/TDK will be a matter of taste. The principal difference I notice, and notice immediately, is that '06 brings the percussive elements more to the fore in the miking. Thus, while the *shapes* (and perhaps even the balances) do not greatly differ between the two, '94 Scala's soundscape is a plush, rich and velvety one; '06 Ravenna is comparatively punchy, pungent, raucous.
The orchestra's youthful quality is matched on the stage, to more equivocal effect. Three of the four principals were not yet 30 at the time. Laura Giordano (Norina/Sofronia), Francisco Gatell (Ernesto), and Mario Cassi (Doctor Malatesta) are attractive not just for opera singers but for magazine models. To toss off a cliché, the camera loves them; there are many lingering close-ups, and not one too many. Of the trio, Cassi gives the most satisfying performance. While the prevailing casting trend here has made him a contemporary of Ernesto and Norina's, and thus one may wonder how he ever became the close friend and confidante of crusty old Don Pasquale (indeed, Cassi would be easier to buy as Third-Year Medical Student Malatesta than as Doctor Malatesta), the baritone offers compensation by being a sly comedian -- he is certainly a more vivid and enterprising actor than Lucio Gallo, his counterpart on the '94 Scala DVD. As our young lovers, Gatell and Giordano are pleasant to listen to; alas, their slender physiques come with voices to match. They are well miked, they certainly *look* their parts (a rare treat in opera, always), and Muti's considerate accompaniments go a long way toward cementing their plausibility. But the voices heard in their roles on both '94 Scala and '84 Philharmonia had more seasoning and authority. Claudio Desderi's Don Pasquale is this Ravenna quartet's anchor in the truest sense of the word. His experience, solid vocalism and shrewd buffo impersonation give the same sort of balancing weight to the business unfolding on stage that Muti provides for the young players in the pit.
Andrea De Rosa's production -- straightforward, respectful, and dignified -- is less keen than Stefano Vizioli's on the Scala DVD. It gives us less to chew on in the way of subtext, behavioral observation and point of view. The Ravenna production just stays out of the libretto's way, in a way letting the opera produce itself. There are worse ways of going about it, certainly, but I must come down on the side of the '94 Scala staging. The Ravenna sets provide the bare necessities of milieu; the relatively narrow staging area is surrounded by pitch blackness (this encroaching darkness is the one thing here I find slightly chilly and distancing). Watching and listening to this was such an enjoyable experience that I hate to damn it with the faint praise that it is, overall, a strong second-best of the two Muti DON PASQUALEs on DVD. However, I am happy to recommend it for those who already have the Scala/TDK disc and would like a second visual document of Donizetti's finest score under a conductor who obviously loves it enough to return often to it. The physical glamour of the likable young performers (who also are legitimate and responsible singers, at the very least) also may make it a nice introduction to the delights of bel canto for the opera neophyte.
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