Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bel Canto 1: Don Pasquale in Parigi (o cara)

Don Pasquale, Théâtre des Champs Élysées in Paris, February 15 2012

Viviani, Rancatore, Mazzola, Corbelli, Demuro

Enrique Mazzola ..... conductor
Denis Podalydès ..... director

Alessandro Corbelli ..... Don Pasquale
Désirée Rancatore ..... Norina
Gabriele Viviani ..... Dr Malatesta
Francesco Demuro ..... Ernesto
Richard Tronc ..... Carlino

Orchestre National de France
Choeur de Radio France 

Denis Podalydès is a well known French actor who ventured into the theater producing business and reaped a fair amount of success. A true "homme de théâtre" who clearly shows his fascination by theater and tries different things to make the theater live.

A few years back he produced his first opera and I thought it was very well done. It was Fortunio by Messager at the Opéra Comique in Paris. It was clear that his experience from the Comédie Française helped and the dynamics of the stage action was captivating without ever impeding the musical flow of the piece. I was impressed not only because that was a beam of light at the time when the Paris Opera was releasing one horror after another (similarly to what's happening right now too), but also because I thought an opera by André Messager would be a low-brand sugar-coated French snoozer that is beyond hope in making it interesting theatrically. Thanks to Podalydès, Langrée, and Lacroix --in addition to a formidable Joseph Kaiser-- Fortunio by Messager was one of my most pleasant surprises in 2009.

Don Pasquale is a tough beast to pull out. The plot is too simple, it's too 'cheap' as a comedy, and like any libretto of the belcanto opera it is badly sewn up for a decent stage production. The only funny, surprising, and intelligent production of this opera that I was given to see was the one by Jetske Mijnssen at the Komische Oper. Now, I obviously did not expect that sort of show at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées, nor I expected Podalydès to alter the story by giving it a few welcoming twists, but I expected a decent theatrical work. In the end, I think, we've got what I expected.

If it means anything to you then I could say that this show is probably better than what you can currently find anywhere on DVD, but it is far from the brilliance of the Jetske Mijnssen's show.

In this production Don Pasquale is a small business owner; he and his employees sell the lamps from his multifunctional van. The action is set in Italy in the 50's-60's which you can easily guess from the fashion of/on the protagonists (Christian Lacroix). As usual, the first part of this opera is slow-paced, the characters are being introduced and the action is built up to lead to the climax that eventually happens in the second-part. Podalydès apparently played along and --unlike the above-mentioned Jetske Mijnssen-- did not bother to give the action a boost or a special character (especially the scene introducing Norina and her interaction with Malatesta looked tired to me) In the second part, instead, it was lively, it was well structured and ultimately enjoyable -- which is the effect you expect to have on the crowd at the end of this opera.

I don't think the show would have been as interesting if the cast was not so involved. It's a comedy, you need good acting! Alessandro Corbelli is the first name that comes to my mind when one of these characters from the Italian operas is mentioned. He has a talent for la comedia dell'arte, his buffoonery seems authentic, and the warmth he radiates by his scenic presence and his singing is always a guarantee for a good show. Désirée Rancatore sings loud, clear and adds extra high notes to most of the stanza-endings in her arias. She visibly enjoys herself on the stage and manages to communicate that to the crowd. Brava! As far as  Francesco Demuro is concerned, I am an inch away from saying "I told you so!" ;) Beside his beautiful singing, he puts his guts and his heart in his interpretation -- with the voice at ease in all registers he's got it all. I would like to listen to him in a larger auditorium but from what I could hear so far he's better than Filianoti and Grigolo. Good luck Francesco and hope for a long and brilliant career! Gabriele Viviani was a complete discovery for me. A plushy sound baritone who can act and whose Malatesta in this production is explicitly a Mephistophelian character. Bravo!
Always reliable Enrique Mazzola did a very good job with timings, always gentle to the singers, and never offered those easy "firemen" brass-endings that often parasite the belcanto operas.

There are no production photos around but here is the trailer

My several pics:

Désirée Rancatore - la gioia di Norina

Francesco Demuro - likely to become a new star tenor
Grandissimo Alessandro Corbelli

Beautifully sounding Gabriele Viviani

in addition to:
Norina seen by Christian Lacroix

and here is the embedded video-link to Arte Live Web where you can see the show [live broadcast past Friday (February 17)]



  1. Merci OC, and good to see you back!

  2. Dear Opera cake,
    thanks for your post, you will find Don Pasquale on
    Kind regards

    Your review is also in
    merci !