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Subject: Don Pasquale - London 27/11/04
From: Timothy Oldroyd <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:[log in to unmask]
Date:Mon, 29 Nov 2004 12:51:44 EST

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I attended this transplant from the Maggio Musicale on its first outing in
London on 27 November. Having had vivid happy memories of this delightful opera
at the ROH in the mid 1970s (Cotrubas, Alva, Evans and Wixell) I was so much
looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with this sparkling work.

In the event, I stood stoney faced throughout the entire evening.  This
project though it promised a lot on paper, failed on almost every count and I felt
that even this opening night audience was less than enamoured of what should
have been a pre Christmas treat. I might have had more patience with the mix
bag of vocalists had there been any sense of theatre, of fun, of telling a story
and sharing this conspiracy with the audience. But as there was no farce,
there could be no pathos in the revelation of Pasquale's foibles and ultimately
no caring for the characters or their situation.

One of the main problems with clearly telling this little fable, was the
elaborate but cumbersome set - the well worn familiar idea of a doll's house
opening to reveal a cross cut of 9 rooms in the home of Pasquale. This looked
expensive and allowed for "action" to be taking place throughout the house.  Chief
advantage of such a design was to show motivation and give continuity and
fluidity to the characters' entrances and exits but, as the chief characters
showed little evidence of having received ANY direction (Jonathan Miller) this was
all moot.  Perhaps if Mr Miller spent less time moaning to the press about
how despises the international opera scene and yet wondering aloud why he isnt
receiving many contracts of late, he might have provided the goods on this
occasion.    The extensive layout of the set also demanded that every room be used
and so important confrontational scenes took place in several  at once,
Pasquale running to his bedroom to escape Sofronia's castigations and yet she
remaining in situ on the other side of the house. The potential for the ludicrous
first confrontation vs Norina and Pasquale went for nothing as it took place
through a semi opened door.  The  supernumeraries evidently HAD received
direction and so we were constantly distracted by the antics of Pasquale's servants
endlessly baking bread, cleaning house, making beds and - of course - sneezing
into pillowcases. These cameos were expert, unlike the principals who, with
the exception of Allesandro Corbelli, seemed at a loss.

Costumes (Isabella Bywater) were absolutely hideous,  most noticeably poor
Juan Diego Florez, trussed up in a blond wig and looking like something out of
the Marschallin's grande levee.

The lacklustre direction of musical matters was evident from the very first
bars of the overture with that ubiquitous hack, Bruno Campanella once more back
in charge, transforming Donizetti's sparkling mock heroic overture into a
dirge, full of pointed rallentandi and pregnant pauses, when the piece cries out
for a madcap gallop into the first scene and the setting of the plot.

Of the principals only Alessandro Corbelli had the complete measure of his
role, relishing the text and creating a genuine character despite a voice worn
with time.  Juan Diego Florez brought his customary brilliant tone to the music
of Ernesto but little in the way of genuine pathos and feeling to his
character. No doubt this assumption will improve out of all recognition with time and
in light of  the musical and dramatic liabilities surrounding him it is not
surprising that he looked very uncomfortable. In spite of his remarkable and
proven vocal gifts, he is still a young singer who needs strong direction and
didnt appear to get it on this occasion.  Simone Alaimo has neither the weight
of voice nor theatrical abilities to make us even begin to care about
Pasquale's plight.

Most curious of all was the appearance of Tatiana Lisnic as a Norina.  The
voice managed to sound both acidulous and muffled at the same time with no
coloratura ability and no top notes.  The idea that this Norina could ever have
been called upon to play a minx and enter into the conspiracy against Pasquale
was laughable, lacking as she was in almost every aspect of stagecraft and
histrionic ability. Had Miller tried to give her direction and simply given up or,
like Florez, was she perhaps left to fend for herself?  She seemed more at
ease after the interval but couldn't shake off her drab mitteleuropaische
Putzfrau demanour. Covent Garden at one time paid its singers in a currency of their
choice and I can only assume that the current exchange rate between sterling
and the current Moldovan currency is advantageous to the opera house at this


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