Don Pasquale, Royal Opera House, London

The management of the Royal Opera must have double vision at the moment. While the company is away on its first tour to Japan for 18 years, the autumn season is simultaneously opening at the Royal Opera House. On Sunday, with performances of La traviata in Yokohama and Don Pasquale in London, the Royal Opera miraculously managed to be in two places at the same time.

No doubt that is why two relatively small-scale operas were chosen to start the London season: Mozart’s Così fan tutte and Donizetti’s evergreen comedy Don Pasquale. Neither demands more than a handful of singers in the chorus and their modest orchestral requirements can be met by players who, for whatever reason, were unable to join the Japanese tour.

Both are also tried and trusted productions by Jonathan Miller. The Donizetti sets the tale of crusty old Don Pasquale in a giant doll’s house where the action chases from room to room. Miller does not overplay his hand – even if it is naughty to have the cleaner emptying the chamber pot in Don Pasquale’s bedroom just as the soprano is in the middle of her aria upstairs – but the set keeps the singers too far back.

Although this is not a starry cast, the result is decent. Paolo Gavanelli’s cavernous bass-baritone is less well suited to sharp-edged Donizetti than it is to Verdi’s Rigoletto, which he will be singing at Covent Garden next month, but his Don Pasquale brings a tougher edge to the comedy than usual and he is well contrasted with Jacques Imbrailo’s suave and lyrically sung Doctor Malatesta.

Iride Martínez’s Norina is equally convincing as pretend nun and viper unleashed, and shows agility running up and down her scales as far as a high E flat. Her Ernesto, Barry Banks, pleaded indisposition but sang with liquid, high tenor tone and was surely hampered more by having to dress up in a ghastly sky-blue silk suit and clutch a teddy bear. With conductor Evelino Pidò getting some rough-and-ready playing out of the pit, this is a revival of average virtues. ()

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