Donizetti's Olivo e Pasquale
Donizetti Festival, Bergamo, November 26 - December 23, 2016
Photographs by Rota Gianfranco, courtesy of the Fondazione Donizetti
Alan Jackson saw the performance on November 26 at the recently re-opened Teatro Sociale in Bergamo's "città alta" and has contributed the following.
Bergamo’s second offering was the comedy Olivo e Pasquale (a review by Alan of one of their other offerings, Donizetti's Rosmonda d'Inghelterra can be found here). The slight plot tells of the brothers Olivo and Pasquale, the former bad-tempered and authoritarian, the latter easy-going and kind but ineffectual. Olivo plans to marry off his daughter Isabella to a French gentleman Monsieur Le Bross though she, unknown to Olivo, is in love with Camillo who works in Olivo’s business. Le Bross turns out to be decent and renounces any claim on Isabella and with the help of the maid Matilde, servant Diego, another Italian merchant Columella, and a ruse to stage a mock double suicide, finally convinces Olivo to bless the union of Isabella and Camillo.
This production proved to be one of those near-perfect evenings that send the audience out on a cloud of elated contentment. Firstly, there was the discovery of a work known to me only through the Bongiovanni recording of the 1980 revival at Barga under Bruno Rigacci. Secondly, the singers were uniformly good with fresh young flexible voices. Thirdly they all looked their parts and could act. Fourthly there was just the sort of detailed direction that I missed in Rosmonda, so that each musical number was filled out with natural stage business that was always entertaining yet never overdone – if this wasn’t the work of directorial team operAlchemica (Ugo Giacomazzi and Luigi Di Gangi) then the singers are geniuses. Fifthly, the stage looked delightful, brilliantly coloured costumes filling an acting area framed by a series of equally brilliantly coloured cut-out frames.
While it is obviously unfair to compare a recording with a staged performance, it seemed to be a different work. Which of course it was, as Bergamo used the Neapolitan version rather than the Roman original (both date from 1827). The main differences are: Camillo is now sung by a tenor rather than a mezzo-soprano, to the great benefit of dramatic realism; dialogue replaces recitative; the buffo Pasquale sings and speaks a good deal of Neapolitan dialect. There are a number of musical differences between the two scores. Some arias from the Rome score are cut and there is an extra one for Camillo in the Neapolitan score which alters the relative importance of these two tenors. There are also changes to the introduction and the Act I finale. This new Neapolitan version is no hack job but shows Donizetti revising with due care. As conductor Federico Maria Sardelli says in his programme essay “Donizetti belongs to that category of composers kissed by their Muse, those who, like Vivaldi, Telemann, Schubert, Mendelssohn, compose much and well”.
Isabella’s final Rondò seemed much more of a showpiece than on the CD (where it strikes me as a bit of a damp squib), but the programme essay makes no mention of changes here. Perhaps it is cut on the CD, I haven’t been able to check. But the effect in the theatre was totally different with Laura Giordano’s brilliant effortless singing rounding off the evening à la Cenerentola – the situation too is similar as Isabella, dressed in white for her wedding expresses her happiness as well as forgiving her now repentant father. The comparison with La Cenerentola is apt as that opera also has Jacopo Ferretti as librettist, and much in Donizetti’s score reminded me of Rossini. In particular, the finale of Act I contains a concertato of typical imitative entries followed by a stretta of confusion reminiscent of those in La Cenerentola or L’italiana in Algeri. But it is not just Donizetti writing in the pervading Rossinian style, he is showing he can equal the older composer at the height of his comic powers.
Olivo is the one character treated as a caricature, almost a pantomime villain. Bruno Taddia relished the role, rightly keeping him over the top. The part is for a basso cantante while his brother Pasquale is a basso buffo. In comparison Filippo Morace was restrained, achieving his comic effects by the subtlety of his gestures. There were three admirable tenors, Pietro Adaino as Camillo, Matteo Macchioni as Le Bross and Edoardo Milletti as Columella. All have young fresh voices capable of encompassing Donizetti’s sometimes florid writing and pinging their high notes. The cast was completed by the two servants, Silvia Beltrami as Matilde and Giovanni Romeo as Diego. All these artists kept produced fine comic acting under the inventive direction of operAlchemica without overstepping the mark into slapstick. Sets (including a ship’s prow carrying Le Bross that arrived through the backdrop) and costumes were by Sara Sarzi Sartori, Daniela Bertuzzi and Arianna Delgado. Lighting was by Luigi Biondi. The musical edition was by Maria Chiara Bertieri. All deserve our thanks. Bergamo has restored a delightful piece and I don’t think it was just the superb performance that made me think that here is a comic opera worthy to join L’elisir, La fille du régiment and Don Pasquale. Opera managements please note.
Olivo - Bruno Taddia
Pasquale - Filippo Morace
Isabella - Laura Giordano
Camillo - Pietro Adaini
Le Bross - Matteo Macchioni
Columella - Edoardo Milletti
Matilde - Silvia Beltrami
Diego - Giovanni Romeo
Direttore- Federico Maria Sardelli
Regia - operAlchemica (Ugo Giacomazzi, Luigi Di Gangi)
Scene e costumi - Sara Sarzi Sartori, Daniela Bertuzzi e Arianna Delgado
Light designer - Luigi Biondi
Coro Donizetti Opera
Orchestra dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala
Matilde and Pasquale
Matilde, Olivo Diego, Columalla, Camillo plus chorus
Diego, Olivo, Matilde, Columella, Camillo plus chorus
Matilde, Diego, Olivo, Columela, Camillo plus chorus
Pasquale, Matilde, Le Bross, Isabella, Camillo Olivo, Diego, plus chorus
Diego, Matilde,Camillo, Olivo, Pasquale, Isabella, Le Bross, Columella, plus chorus