Opera Reviews
26 June 2019
Untitled Document

Ambrogio Maestri delights as Don Pasquale

by Silvia Luraghi
Donizetti: Don Pasquale
Teatro alla Scala, Milan
19 April 2018

Even though he remains primarily a Verdi baritone, in his fifteen-year career Ambrogio Maestri has not refrained from performing roles of other Italian opera composers. A comparatively recent addition to Maestri’s repertoire is the title role of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, which he has now taken to La Scala to the delight of the Milanese audience.

Director Davide Livermore, who is also responsible for the sets in collaboration with Giò Forma, took care of the production. Livermore enjoyed a great success last season at La Scala with his cinematographic staging of Handel’s Tamerlano.  The current production, too, offers a temporal shift, by setting the action in the 1950s, and owes much to the director’s knowledge of Italian movies of the time, with several citations from directors such as Fellini, Rossellini and their contemporaries.

The place remains, as in the original libretto, the city of Rome, where Norina is a starlet at Cinecittà’s studios. When she sings her aria ‘So anch’io la virtú magica’ while trying to start her car (the same type as in Dino Risi’s popular film Il sorpasso) and the engine burns out, male actors come out of the studios to help her still wearing costumes of ancient Romans.

She then joins Malatesta and listens to his plans. The possible attitudes she imagines for Sofronia materialize in a sort of fashion show. In the meantime, her beloved Ernesto is at termini station waiting for the train that will take him far away. Don Pasquale’s home is dominated by a living portrait of his mother, whose funeral is shown at the beginning of the opera, and who clearly remained his only woman until then.

All this additional action had the effect of making the stage somewhat too full of people coming and going, but the final result was nevertheless enjoyable and entertaining.

A merit that the stage director shared with the singers, who all proved very skilled actors. Ambrogio Maestri is perhaps not a bel canto specialist, but his voice remains firm and well-tuned, and his acting is amusing. His Don Pasquale is a good tempered guy, who is puzzled, rather than upset at Sofronia’s sudden change, and readily accepts the situation when he understands that he has been cheated.

Rosa Feola was a smart and very dynamic Norina, with a shining soprano, ringing at the top and nicely colored throughout the range. At her side, tenor René Barbera portrays a more meek and helpless character. Vocally, he sounded less at ease in the role, showing an open emission which caused his voice to slightly bleach at times.  Mattia Olivieri was an idiomatic Malatesta, even though he could hardly match the over-active Norina.

For this production, Maestro Riccardo Chailly took care of the musical side. He conducted the orchestra with the usual commitment, and gave a brisk pacing to the music, showing a perfect agreement with the stage director as to how the action had to develop. The audience’s reaction was enthusiastic.

Text © Silvia Luraghi
Photo © Teatro alla Scala
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