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For such an experienced Donizetti conductor, Bruno Campanella makes heavy weather of the Overture. Hardly a phrase is allowed to pass without being held up for examination, as if the music is stuck at traffic lights that refuse to turn green – symbolic, perhaps, of a revival that never really gets going.
Audiences will know if they are going to love or hate Jonathan Miller’s very traditional production as soon as the curtain goes up. The stage is dominated by a huge dolls’ house and almost the entire opera takes place within its walls (it was a neat idea to suggest that Norina has already taken up residence as Ernesto’s live-in lover hidden in the attic). Sometimes the business going on in other rooms of the house distracts attention at the wrong moment, but otherwise the opera comes across amusingly as a sort of early 19th-century sitcom.
Unfortunately, the set places the singers at a disadvantage. It is difficult to hear Norina when she is singing in a second-floor bedroom, or Pasquale and Malatesta starting their celebrated duet in the master suite; and people sitting at the sides, must be unable to see them.
If he only had a more forward presence, Alessandro Corbelli would be a Don Pasquale to reckon with. His portrait of the curmudgeonly old miser is a nicely human alternative to the usual caricature, but it comes across here as underplayed.
Hardly any spark of a relationship seems to have ignited between Aleksandra Kurzak’s vivacious Norina and Eric Cutler’s vocally studious Ernesto. Her soprano passes through shallow patches and he has as much personality as one of the china dolls that forgot to come to life. Christopher Maltman makes sure that every gesture of Doctor Malatesta lights up the character, but his voice sounds ill-suited to the task in hand. Campanella picks up the pace as he goes along, but it would take more than speed alone to get this revival moving. ★★★☆☆
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