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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Opera Review: Anna Netrebko Dominates Don Pasquale

Anna Netrebko (right, with frying pan) takes aim at Dr. Malatesta.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2010 Metropolitan Opera
The Metropolitan Opera's revival of Don Pasquale featured the spitfire soprano of Anna Netrebko. While the Russian beauty is the main reason to catch one of these performances, she is a key component of a fine comic ensemble that delivers the opera buffa goods.

In the title role, John del Carlo gave a performance that blended physical comedy and vocal athleticism. His slow, gouty gait and moans of woe elicted sympathy for the poor old Don, who gets himself married off to a young girl fresh from the convent (or so he thinks) only for her to turn into a spendthrift shrew. Even as his performance brought the welcome sound of laughter to the cavernous Met, one couldn't help but feel sorry for the old guy.

He was ably partnered with Mariusz Kwiecien, an athletic baritone as the conniving Dr. Malatesta. His comic fencing with Ms. Netrebko established their relationship quickly in the eyes of the audience. And the Act III duet for Malatesta and Pasquale, with its doubled patter runs and fast parlando became a giddy ride. Even better, Mr. Kwiecien and Mr. del Carlo came out in front of the trompe l'oeil show curtain to perform the duet a second time--a rare Met encore.

Norina is a complex heroine who stands at the center of this opera's comic plot. Anna Netrebko established the character with her very first scene, singing "Quel guardo del caviliere" with a liquid bel canto technique. She arced up gracefully for the role's high notes, presenting the character with an indomitable spirit. When she turned on Pasquale, Ms. Netrebko acted out every opera house manager's worst backstage nightmare to great comic effect. The Met has seen its share of diva drama over its long history, and many in the house last night enjoyed the inside joke.

Tenor Matthew Polenzanai may not have the name recognition of some of the other fine bel canto singers working today. But he is a fine, comic actor with a pleasing lyric tenor voice. He sang the long vocal lines of Ernesto's two big arias with impressive control. "Cercherò lontana terra" made the audience feel for Ernesto's plight, caught between his love for Norina and his uncle's decision to cut him out of the family fortune. At the start of the garden scene, the offstage canzonetta "Com'è gentil" floated softly into the house. When he stepped onstage for the final section of the serenade, his voice swelled into full bloom, a thrilling sound.

The Met orchestra seems to relish playing this wonderful Donizetti score, and James Levine conducted a sparkling performance. Clad in black, the Met's music director used a cane to get to the podium. But unlike the opening night, he joined the singers onstage for a short bow before the gold curtain.
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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.