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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

DVD Review: Jazz Age Hustle

Don Pasquale at the Grand Theatre of Geneva
This energetic Swiss staging of Donizetti's comedy updates Don Pasquale to the jazz age. Everybody is in modern dress, with the action taking place at outdoor cafes, the servants in tuxedos, and the befuddled Don as a 19th century nobleman who runs smack into the modern age and gets a lesson he'll never forget. Evolino Pido leads the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in an entertaining, fizzy account of the score that perfectly captures Donizetti's playful spirit.

Happily, the singing here matches the high quality of the production. Simone Alaimo is a vigorous Don Pasquale. He combines a full, round bass, pin-point parlando singing and acting experience (gained from years of playing buffo villains) to excellent effect. And although he starts off as a blowhard, one feels sorry for the Don as he is rapidly victimized by the conspiracy to "marry" him off.

Part confidence artist and part dominatrix, Norina is the most important role in this opera. In order to marry her beloved Ernesto, she puts the Don through the proverbial wringer to help the foolish old man learn his lesson. Here, is not an actress, but a talented Bohemian painter who affects the style of Rene Magritte. Her redecoration of the Don's house looks like an attack by Piet Mondrian gone berserk.

Mezzo-soprano Patrizia Ciofi offers a dazzling display of Norina's vocal acrobatics, racing through Donizetti's most complicated passages with ease. The fact that she is a fine comic actress doesn't hurt either. Here, in her second DVD of the opera, she is well matched with tenor Norman Shankle, a plaintive, sentimental Ernesto. His "exile" aria has real pathos, especially the moment when he packs his suitcase and for a moment, holds up a teddy bear. Shankle has a fine bel canto tenor, with reserves of power underneath each delicately placed note.

Baritone Marzio Giossi makes a fine comic foil as Doctor Malatesta. His first appearance, as a cafe customer reading a large book titled "Freud", gives the viewer much information about his character--and a whole new dimension to the good Doctor's relationship with old Pasquale. It is yet another "modern" touch in this charming, comic staging of a brilliant comedy that deserves a higher place in the international repertory.

Watch a scene from Don Pasquale on YouTube!
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.