Film & TV

Opera Film Review: Don Pasquale

Don pasquale, opera

This screening is highly recommended.  Even traditionalists who hate operas being ‘modernised’ will be delighted.

If you are an opera lover, then you will love this film presentation of Donizetti’s wonderful comic opera Don Pasquale.  .

This production by the Paris Opera is just fabulous.  It was captured live from Palais Garnier, Paris on 19 June 2018.  Not all film presentations of live operas are successful, but this one is close to perfection, and this reviewer rates it nine out of ten – nothing’s perfect!

As most operas go, the plot is larger than life with many aspects of the story stretching credulity to breaking point, but Don Pasquale gets very close to being believable.  The opera focuses on Don Pasquale, an elderly bachelor who makes being a scrooge an artform.  He decides to disinherit his nephew Ernesto by marrying and producing an heir of his own. Why?  Because Ernesto refuses to marry the woman that Don Pasquale has chosen for him.  With obscene haste, Don Pasquale is tricked into making a contract to marry Norina, who is in actual fact Ernesto’s sweetheart but he doesn’t know that.  Don Pasquale is so besotted by the thought of marrying such a young beauty that he blindly agrees to terms that are squarely in favour of the bride-to-be.  In effect, she can do what she likes, when she likes, and she does, including refusing to share Don Pasquale’s bed!  And so, Don Pasquale’s downward spiral begins, and the moral of the story is  “Foolish indeed is he who marries in old age.”

The cast is uniformly excellent.  Italian bass Michele Pertusi sings Don Pasquale with conviction and never parodies the role thus giving the Don believability.  American sopranao Nadine Sierra is outstanding as Norina, and she oozes sensuality as well as mischievousness. At just thirty years of age, she is already a vocal tour-de-force and her acting skills are as good as her voice.  She has a glittering future.  Award winning American tenor Lawrence Brownlee sang the role of Ernesto, and although smaller in stature than Sierra, he looked the part as her love-struck suitor.  His performance of the aria Cercherò lontana terra (“I shall seek a distant land”) was glorious.  French baritone Florian Sempey played Doctor Malatesta and imbued him with all the rat-cunning that was needed.  Frédéric Guie played the notary and made him suitably bumbling and inept.

The Orchestre de l’Opera national de Paris was conducted by maestro Evelino Pidò, and Donizetti’s melodic score flourished under his baton.  In particular the difficult so-called syllabic singing that is a highlight of the score was expertly accompanied by the orchestra.

Despite the superb singing of the cast, the highlight of the production was Paolo Fantin’s inspired design.  It was set in the present, and it worked fabulously well.  The house of Don Pasquale was skeletal, with no walls.  It was completely see-through and the separation of rooms was suggested by free standing doors.  The reason for the whole set being see-through was so that the large backdrop at the back of the stage could be used as a projection screen up which various live images of other diverse settings called for by the script could be projected.  The real triumph of the design was that the live images were being filmed on stage in front of a green screen!

The filming of the opera was crisp and clean.  Close-ups were intentional – as opposed to being overused as has often been the case in other opera screenings – and the transitions form one character to another were perfectly synchronised with the music.  It all seemed very natural to the eye as if you were actually observing a production ‘in the flesh.’

This screening is highly recommended.  Even traditionalists who hate operas being ‘modernised’ will be delighted.

Check out the full Palace Opera and Ballet program here.

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