Although it started around 1720 as one-act "buffo intermezzi" (such is the famous Pergolesi "La Serva Padrona") intercalated in "opere serie" as a way of bringing a smile to the audience in an evening largely given to drama, as the audiences liked it, the genre soon grew to a full evening and many hundred were produced. During the later XVIIth Century, the two great names were Paisiello and Cimarosa. When the XIXth began, Rossini flourished as its best exponent. Donizetti wrote one-acters and full-evening "opere buffe", and the crown of his production is also the final flash of this sort of opera: "Don Pasquale".
"Don Pasquale" is dated 1842 and the libretto by Giovanni Ruffini is based on "Ser Marcantonio" by Angelo Anelli, libretto for an opera by a now forgotten composer, Stefano Pavesi. As Gaetano Donizetti had written several "buffo libretti" for other operas he created, it is quite possible that he was co-author with Ruffini.
It is a simple farce based on exaggeration: an old man (Pasquale) requires his nephew (Ernesto) to marry a girl he doesn´t want, for he is enamoured with Norina; he refuses; then, Pasquale wants to get married himself. But his doctor, Malatesta, presents to him a supposed modest sister, "Sofronia" (Norina, whom Pasquale hasn´t met): the ingenuous bourgeois falls into the trap, and "marries" her (a false marriage).
As soon as she is "empowered" she turns into a harrowing vixen, spends reams of money and finally slaps him. Pasquale is again fooled reading a planted letter where a lover concerts a meeting with "Sofronia": when the septuagenarian "surprises" them together, he is told that she is Norina. He relaxes when it is revealed that the marriage was a fake, he forgives and the young people will marry.
The music is always charming and sometimes very beautiful, as in the tenor Serenade and following duet with the soprano. And there´s the famous buffo duet of Pasquale and Malatesta. The opera has always been very successful and there has been no shortage of good "Don Pasquales" in my experience since 1950, but this is the first time for Buenos Aires Lírica; it is their comedy of the year and I find it a reasonable choice.
The last time the Colón offered it was in 1997, but before the theatre offered it regularly and I remember with particular admiration two revivals: in 1958 there was a good local cast except for the best buffo of those times, Fernando Corena; and in 1965 the artists were splendid: Geraint Evans, Sesto Bruscantini, Luigi Alva and Jeanette Scovotti, plus the sure hand of conductor Fernando Previtali, and the joyous, imaginative production by Ernst Pöttgen.
The three local singers on the present instances are among the best we have, especially Hernán Iturralde as Pasquale: the voice is rotund throughout the whole range, the musicality impeccable and the acting very convincing. Although there was a touch of incisiveness at first, Oriana Favaro remains the talented young lyric soprano we know, and her physical beauty certainly helps. She plays the comedy with élan, at times a true minx and at others a melting lover.
Santiago Ballerini has a firm high register but his voice lacks the creaminess the part needs; however, he found his best form in the Third Act, and the aforementioned Serenade and Duet were beautifully sung. It isn´t his fault if the producer made of him a rather absurd marionette at times. Alas, there was a fly in the ointment: the Brazilian Homero Velho (debut) proved a poor import. In the first two acts the voice was harsh and the line ungainly, and it was only in the Third Act that he arrived to a passable level, even if he is an agreeable actor. The short Notary role was correctly done by Enzo Romano.
Juan Casasbellas has long been the very good Choir Director of BAL, but this time he also conducted the orchestra . Although the style was tasteful and he phrased nicely, at times there were some blurry orchestral moments along with others that were satisfactory. The Choir as usual was committed; in this opera they have only one star moment, in the Third Act, and they did well. Later on they accompanied the tenor in the serenade, and this was one of the few inspired moments in the Brazilian producer André Heller- Lopes´work: each member stood in a different loge with a light in his/her hand, and as such was my seating I was surprised by suddenly hearing a voice nicely in tune centimeters from my head.
To be fair, there were quality stage designs by Daniela Taiana, with well executed lateral "buildings" thatr looked like Venice, fine gowns for Norina by Sofía Di Nunzio and resourceful lighting by Gonzalo Córdova. The problem was the producer´s idea of giving us a "commedia dell´arte" "Don Pasquale", for they belong to completely different traditions. Even accepting it, it could have been done much better; the added mute characters merely interfered and cluttered the space, even in the Overture that only needs to be heard.
Lowest moment: the ridiculous bathtub scene imposed on Ernesto. Relative best: the agreeable ambience of the lovers scene in the Third Act, even if the wood wasn´t there. Relief: it wasn´t transported to the XXIst Century. Final bad point: constant incongruous mixture of interiors and exteriors.
For Buenos Aires Herald