Review | Don Pasquale by Donizetti at the Royal Opera House

Bryn Terfel as Don Pasquale at ROH, 2019, photograph by Clive Barda

Don Pasquale by Donizetti is a frothy comedy – or at least it should be. This new production at the Royal Opera House by Damiano Michieletto is a curious mixture of comedy and cruelty.

The opera is about an older man, Don Pasquale, who, after his nephew Ernesto refuses to marry the woman that Pasquale wants him to (since he is in love with someone else), cuts him off. A friend, Doctor Malatesta tricks Pasquale into a pretend marriage with Ernesto’s love Norina, so that Norina can be cruel to Pasquale to persuade him to give up women and let Ernesto choose whom he wants.

The problems come from the characterisations, Pasquale (phenomenally sung and acted by Sir Bryn Terfel) is more of a victim here than Ernesto; there are scenes in which Pasquale, as a boy with his mother, highlight the inner child in everyone. Ernesto, who needs to be lovelorn and, in some ways, the ‘hero’ who the audience needs to root for, performed with a good voice by Ioan Hotea is a brat.

He acts like a child, getting the housekeeper to pour oil all over Pasquale’s car, prodding and hitting Pasquale; it’s a childish representation and far from enamouring the audience to his plight. The audience would rather anyone else win. However, the way that this production ends, for me is the worst part. After the young couple win and all is right the world, they sing how Pasquale should let youth find love. Pasquale is sent to an old peoples home surrounded by the elderly, basically to die. It’s a awful way to end it, when one should expect comedy – an ending with lightness and love – not something so depressive and mean-spirited.

With the cast, there are a number of strong peformances. As mentioned, Bryn Terfel is fantastic, a strong voice and brilliant comedic skills; his expressions and actions are worth a ticket themselves. Markus Werba as Doctor Malatesta has a strong voice and is a great actor, too, as is Hotea as Ernesto. Norina is performed here by Olga Peretyatko: she is a brilliant actress, the scenes where she and Malatesta are getting ready with her, trying to act pious, is a particular highlight of the production and innovatively done with green screen. However, whilst her voice is fantastic, this is the wrong role for her register. Her voice is more lyrical than bel canto.

This production is too cruel, too much confusion to be as funny and entertaining as it can and should be. However, the performances and acting are fantastic and worth seeing, if simply for Bryn Terfel’s Pasquale.

Donizetti’s Don Pasquale was on at the Royal Opera House till 2nd November.

Words by Stuart Martin.

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