French director Laurent Pelly creates a devilish work of theatre in 'Don Pasquale', the brilliant opera buffa from Gaetano Donizetti, which hasn't been staged at Barcelona's Liceu Opera House for nearly 30 years. The staging, coproduced by the Festival of Santa Fe in New Mexico, the San Francisco Opera and the Liceu, isn't as rounded as 'La fille du régiment' ('The Daughter of the Regiment')', also from Donizetti, or 'Cendrillon' ('Cinderella') by Massenet, the best work of Pelly at the historic venue on La Rambla. But fun is guaranteed. There are well-worked comic situations, but they force the singers into such quick movement that it can complicate the projection of their voices.
Pelly plays with two visual references. On the one hand, Italian cinema, the classic comedies of Alberto Sordi, Vittorio Gasmann and Marcello Mastroianni. On the other, he considers the characters in 'Don Pasquale' as archetypes of commedia dell'arte, and he draws them with gestures that seem very artificial. He articulately demonstrates the adventures of the old, pathetic Don Pasquale, who wants to marry Norina, the young fiancée of his nephew Ernesto who ends up living a cruel, ironic and surrealist nightmare - Pelly literally turns their house upside down - to learn a lesson.
In his Liceu debut, the young Venezuelan director Diego Matheuz also opts for a quick, brilliant reading of the delightfully melodic music that he conducts with confidence. The cast has its ups and downs: the bass-baritone Lorenzo Regazzo is lacking power as Don Pasquale, a big character that he portrays with measured musicality and comedy. Also limited by his scant volume is the Ernesto of tenor Juan Francisco Gatell, whose voice is too plain to be able to shine in this difficult role.
However, two Liceu debutants triumph. Soprano Valentina Naforinta, who creates a malicious, temperamental and whimsical Norina, has a light, effective voice with which she gives a decorative portrayal; and the excellent baritone Mariusz Kwiecien, a generously voiced Malatesta, beautiful and well projected. Bass Marc Pujol plays the role of notary well, while the choir reaches a notable theatrical and vocal level in both its appearances.