Camarena Conquers The Met Again In Donizetti Comedy

Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, NY; March 15, 2016—Don Pasquale, Donizetti’s final comic opera, and fifth from last of a list of almost 70, is a gem, dessert-like in its airiness, with a few poignant moments as well. Amid all of the familiar plot conventions involving tricking an old, foolish man out of his romantic delusions and allowing the bright, young couple to find wedded bliss, there is a thorn: Our heroine, Norina, having manipulated Don Pasquale into marriage (with the help of her brother, Dr Malatesta), goes too far and slaps the old man. Pasquale expresses the shattering of his delusion and sadness at the position he finds himself in with great pathos and it’s not possible to ignore the moment of cruelty and its consequences, however brief. It soon returns to farce, still laced with gorgeous melodies, and all ends well, but Donizetti’s decision to include that bit of sorrow takes Pasquale out of the realm of stock characters. It’s a wonderful touch.

Otto Schenk’s entertaining staging (now directed by J. Knighten Smit) on Rolf Langenfass’ fine sets—the Don’s grand foyer, somewhat frayed at the edges; Norina’s sunroof with laundry hanging about; a garden/courtyard—are now nine years old, but the whole show is looking good. And it’s very strongly cast this season. The gigantic and playful Ambrogio Maestri sings the title role with a fine baritone and just the right mixture of arrogance, self-delusion, outrage, and forgiveness. His wild duet with the excellent, stage-wise Dr Malatesta of baritone Levente Molnar in the second act—“Chieti, chieti”—was met with wild applause and its final section was repeated.

And speaking of encores, the magnificent Javier Camarena, as Ernesto, the lovesick nephew of Pasquale, a tenore di grazia with a bright but warm tone, spectacular upper extension, charming stage presence, and grand musicality, walked away with the evening as he did a couple of seasons ago in La Cenerentola. He charmed in his Act 2 cavatina and dazzled with his cabaletta, capped with a spectacular high D-flat. He was called back by the audience and repeated the cabaletta, and sang it with great bel canto embellishments. Bravo! Met debutante Eleonora Buratto was his Norina. She seems to have much—she’s a good looking woman with fine stage presence and comic flair, and she has all the notes and style for the role. But the top notes are big and brassy and she doesn’t always keep to the pitch in the middle of her range. She certainly does not spoil the performance, but it isn’t a voice that one warms to.

Maurizio Benini leads with wit and energy, whipping up the orchestra in the terrific overture and finding warmth and sweetness in the beautiful last-act Norina/Ernesto duet. The chorus, in its two brief, wacky moments, sings mightily, but is directed as if in some sort of pantomime skit. But what a fun evening of Donizetti!