Donizetti – Don Pasquale
Don Pasquale – Roberto de Candia
Norina – Pretty Yende
Ernesto – Juan Francisco Gatell
Malatesta – Mariusz Kwiecień
Notario – Marc Pujol
Cor del Gran Teatre del Liceu, Orquestra Simfònica del Gran Teatre del Liceu / Diego Matheuz.
Stage director – Laurent Pelly.
Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona. Saturday, June 27th, 2015.
I must admit that Don Pasquale has never been a favourite opera of mine but tonight changed this completely. It was a very welcome burst of Italian sunshine full of comedy and life. If the temperature outside was hot and humid, inside the stage sizzled with some terrific performances from an excellent cast. The cast we saw was not quite the one scheduled. Originally, Ailyn Pérez was to have sung Norina but she withdrew well before the opening night to be replaced by Valentina Naforniţă. As with the majority of the shows at the Liceu, the run was double-cast. Naforniţă unfortunately fell sick and was replaced by Pretty Yende who was singing in the other cast and tonight performed the role for the second successive evening. Not that you would have known it as the voice betrayed no signs of fatigue. Even more drastically, Roberto de Candia replaced the ailing Lorenzo Regazzo as he had also done on Thursday evening. For him this was the fourth performance in a row – that his energy was undiminished was completely remarkable. Indeed, this was a highly energetic performance and, on this last night of the run, the cast seemed to be having the time of their lives. It was absolutely infectious.
Laurent Pelly’s staging, a coproduction with Santa Fe and San Francisco, offered sepia tints and a hint of the 1950s. The comedy was drawn in big brush strokes, the humour physical and the cast fully entered into the spirit of things. This was the first production of Don Pasquale I have seen where, rather than having a sense of an old man being preyed upon by the younger people, we saw that the actions of the lovers and Malatesta were clearly designed to punish Pasquale for his cruelty and selfishness. Given that they were originally scheduled to be singing in different casts, I don’t know how much rehearsal they had had together but the chemistry between the principals was real and unmistakable. Sets, designed by Chantal Thomas, were basic but interestingly Pasquale’s living room was transformed between the first act and the third where it reappeared upside down with his armchair on the ceiling – a physical representation of the chaos that Sofronia had brought to his life. As a piece of storytelling, the production certainly did the job.
Roberto de Candia gave us a larger than life Don Pasquale. Sung in a solid, grainy baritone, he gave us a performance that ideally mapped the character’s journey, from selfishness to forgiveness. The duet with Kwiecień’s Malatesta was absolutely showstopping – I only wish that they had encored it. His comic timing was also impeccable. As his nephew, Argentine tenor Juan Francisco Gatell sang his music in a light, easily-produced lyric tenor. His legato was seamless and his serenade was sung with the utmost delicacy. The voice perhaps has a limited range of tone colours but he used dynamics with great sensitivity, shading the music with love and affection. He was an endearing stage presence and entirely believable.
Tonight was my first encounter with Pretty Yende’s fabulous soprano and hers really is a voice with genuine star quality. The tone has this marvellous combination of strawberries and cream, champagne and richness. She also made much of the words – as did all of her castmates. She played Norina as a lady who liked a drink or two and a character of genuine spirit. Her medium-weight soprano negotiated the florid writing with ease, a good trill and displayed a bright open top that capped the ensembles wonderfully. Her singing communicated such genuine joy and openness that it was impossible not to be won over. A notable artist undoubtedly.
Mariusz Kwiecień’s Malatesta is a known quantity having appeared in several productions and on DVD. Tonight, Kwiecień was sensational. He gave us a total and unequivocal masterclass in vocal agility, stylistic awareness and dramatic presence. As an actor he holds the stage and simply becomes the character, bringing the role to life with that unteachable union of text, music and their physical manifestation. His singing has real elegance and the way he dispatched the florid writing and sustained the effortlessly long lines was truly remarkable. He even has a genuine trill. Kwiecień also brings genuine Italianate warmth to the tone. He made the entire role sound like it was the easiest thing in the world. A truly outstanding artist.
The Liceu orchestra played decently enough, some sour intonation in the lower strings notwithstanding. The chorus, prepared by Conxita Garcia, sounded a bit more solid of tone than they have for a while. The only blot on the performance was Diego Matheuz’ conducting. While the singing had genuine style, the phrasing in the orchestra was perfunctory. It needed a bit more rhythmic impetus, pointing of the rhythms and phrasing that reflected the superb and highly muscial singing. It was paced competently enough but compared to what was happening on stage, the conducting wasn’t quite on the same level.
Tonight was one of those evenings in the opera house that genuinely lived, grounded in the real and indisputable chemistry of a cast that clearly loved every moment of it. It was a performance that lived and brought genuine sunshine to its audience. Stupendous.