[Met Performance] CID:255810
New production
Don Pasquale {83} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/7/1978.

(Debuts: Håkan Hagegård, Nicola Rescigno
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
December 7, 1978
Benefit sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera Guild
for the production funds
New production


DON PASQUALE {83}
Donizetti-Ruffini

Don Pasquale............Gabriel Bacquier
Norina..................Beverly Sills
Ernesto.................Nicolai Gedda
Dr. Malatesta...........Håkan Hagegård [Debut]
Notary..................Nico Castel
Servant.................Unknown

Conductor...............Nicola Rescigno [Debut]

Production..............John Dexter
Designer................Desmond Heeley
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler

Production gift of the Edith C. Blum Foundation

Don Pasquale received twenty-three performances this season.

Review of Harold C. Schonberg in The New York Times

Dexter Stages 'Don Pasquale' for Miss Sills at the Met

Donizetti's "Don Pasquale," never missing for a long time from any opera house, returned to the Metropolitan Opera on Thursday night after an absence of a few years. It was a brand new production, conceived by John Dexter, with sets and costumes by Desmond Heeley. The opera seems to invite directorial tinkering. It was only about five years ago that Julliard staged a "Don Pasquale' that put the action into the Italy of the 1920's, complete with vintage cars. Mr. Dexter is not that contemporary. His "Pasquale" is placed in Rome in the early 1900's.

It is a candy-box production, with a valentinelike rectangle framing the stage and closing the action into a relatively small space. The idea is to achieve greater intimacy. The settings and props are rococo and rather elaborate. Don Pasquale'' garden is a grotto that any Italian duke would have been glad to claim. Norina's terrace is more than comfortable; it is lavish. She is doing all right for a widow described as poor but honest. Or is Dr. Malatesta keeping her? Let us hastily change the subject.

It is cute as all get-out, this production, but it does not particularly impress as Italian. It is too slick, too international. But it does no great harm to the opera, as the Dexter staging of "The Bartered Bride" did, and one is willing to go along with it. There also is the inevitable slapstick that every director here and abroad indigoes in. Mr. Dexter did play for easy laughs, but at least he tried to make the characters human, and he handles the episode in which Norina slaps Don Pasquale with more sensitively than most directors do.

He had some good singing actors to work with. The production was created with Beverly Sills in mind, and she had Nicolai Gedda and Gabriel Bacquier in the cast. Those two admirable veterans never made a false move, dramatically or musically. And Miss Sills, looking radiant and obviously enjoying every minute of the show, made every point, even when the direction had her unnecessarily camping it up. Do girls fresh from the convent sit and act the way Miss Sills did, knees out and squatting in a chair like a washerwoman? The role of Norina did not tax Miss Sills' vocal resources as much as some recent ones she has attempted. It would be idle to claim that she could handle everything in the part, but she paced herself well, avoided elaborate cadenzas or interpolations, and tried to project a clear line. Her work Thursday night was a triumph of experience and professionalism.

Mr. Bacquier is not the roly-poly Don Pasquale of tradition. But he is a wonderful actor, and he caught the essence of a doting old man. He always has been among the most musical of singers, and Thursday night was no exception. Another triumph of experience was the singing of Mr. Gedda, as Ernesto. His is not an ideal bel canto voice these days; it lacks the warmth and sensuous quality of the great exponents of the past. But Mr. Gedda knows how to project a smooth line, even when the tone is rather hard and the top not as responsive as it used to be. He is one of the great stylists.

Making his Met debut was Hakan Hagegard, from Sweden, as Dr. Malatesta. He is young, handsome, an absolutely professional actor, and the possessor of a dependable, well-focused baritone voice. It is not a large instrument, but it projects well and is used with security. Nicola Rescigno conducted. It was his Met debut, too. He is an experienced hand around the opera house, as executive as well as conductor, and he led a traditional performance. The trouble was that it was not very interesting. Everything went well enough, but without much personality.

At this point in the 135-year history of "Don Pasquale," it is not necessary to extol its virtues. Yet one does have a tendency to forget how vital, how funny, how very human the Donizetti comic operas are. Many of us would not trade one "Don Pasquale" for a dozen "Lucias." There may be reservations about the production of "Don Pasquale" that the Met opera has just staged, but the music remains as marvelous as ever.



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