BWW Review: The Audience Cheers Tenor Camarena in Delightful DON PASQUALE at the Met
Point/counterpoint: As if to set off its trio of Elizabethan tragedies by Donizetti, the Met is presenting two of the master's comedies. First up: DON PASQUALE, and it was a pip. (The other is L'ELISIR D'AMORE.) Too bad the Met underestimated its appeal, because it had a truncated run of only five performances. Judging by the audience reception, they could have done more--certainly if tenor Javier Camarena was at bat.
At the last performance of the season, Camarena hit a home run, with the elaborate aria "Povero Ernesto...E se fia che ad altro oggetto." When he hit the D flat at the end, the audience went wild to the extent that Camarena came back for an encore--one of the few times in Met history that has occurred. (He was responsible for another, when he stepped into the role of Don Ramiro in LA CENERENTOLA, pinch-hitting for Juan Diego Florez two years ago, another "encore-ista.") Camarena is a charming, understated performer, with a spectacular range that seemed to be a secret until his CENERENTOLA performances with Joyce DiDonato two years ago, followed by a run of Bellini's LA SONNAMBULA opposite Diana Damrau that showed the Rossini was no fluke. (Let's see what his high F sounds like when he does I PURITANI with Damrau next season!) Ernesto is not one of the great tenor roles...unless you have a great tenor doing it.
Despite the love he received from the audience, Camarena remained a great comrade in arms to his co-stars, as DON PASQUALE is more of an ensemble piece than other operas by Donizetti, concentrating on the antics of a tight little band, with the addition of the (great Met) chorus as almost an afterthought, though a delightful one. Here--in this story of the comeuppance of a vain old man, told with a sense of compassion for his follies-- two others in the cast couldn't help but show their star quality.
First was Italian soprano Eleonora Buratto, making her debut as Norina with a larger voice than one often associates with this side of bel canto repertoire (unless you're Anna Netrebko). Think Bidu Sayao, the Brazilian charmer from the '40s who debuted Villa-Lobos' "Bachiana Brasilera #5," or the long-lived Roberta Peters, who debuted a production in 1955, then stepped for an indisposed Beverly Sills in the late '70s. Buratto may not have the easy high notes that these other, lighter voiced sopranos brought, but she nonetheless did very well indeed with her luscious soprano, as the saucy Norina and bossy Sofronia.
Ambrogio Maestri, who became a Met star with his sterling FALSTAFF a few seasons back, provides more vocal heft than one expects from a baritone in this repertoire and certainly provided rich contrast to baritone Alexey Lavrov's Dr. Malatesta in their boisterous duet. His Don Pasquale--a pompous old man who is sure that money can buy anything...until he has to lay it out-- may be a variation on the theme, but he did it with resonant authority and sure comic timing (while never laying it on too thick). Lavrov's Malatesta--who sets the comedy in motion--was a great comic asset, though his voice was lighter than one could have hoped for.
While the handsome, unashamedly old-fashioned Otto Schenk production, under Met assistant director J. Knighten Smit, looked fine--dating from 2006, the style could have been at home 50 years earlier-- it moved like a glacier. This wrought havoc on the continuity of the piece: Even when Maestri and Lavrov came out and did a song and dance routine in front of the curtain after their wonderful duet, between the scenes of in Act III, there was still too much time for the audience to sit and twiddle its collective thumbs. The lull between the two scenes of Act I was even worse.
Nonetheless, nothing could really ruin the fun of the evening--not with these expert farceurs backing up their antics with nonpareil vocal skills, and the lithe performance from the Met orchestra under Maurizio Benini. DON PASQUALE may not be as familiar as L'ELISIR D'AMORE (or Donizetti's other popular comedy, LA FILLE DU REGIMENT) but it can stand up tall against them, anytime, as far as I'm concerned--and it was great to have it back.