January 31, 2010
Komische Oper Berlin

Let Me Be the Nail for Your Coffin

Donizetti's Don Pasquale opens at Komischen Oper Berlin

Program

Gaetano Donizetti
Don Pasquale

Artists

Komische Oper Berlin
Musical director: Maurizio Barbacini
Director: Jetske Mijnssen
Stage design: Paul Zoller
Costume design: Arien de Vries
Dramaturgy: Malte Krasting
Chorus master: Robert Heimann
Light: Franck Evin

Don Pasquale: Jens Larsen
Ernesto: Adrian Strooper
Doktor Malatesta: Günter Papendell
Norina: Christiane Karg
Ein Notar: Ingo Witzke

Chorus solists, extras and orchestra of the Komischen Oper Berlin

Leserbrief/readers comment Druckversion/printversion

Let Me Be the Nail for Your Coffin

Donizetti's Don Pasquale opens at Komischen Oper Berlin

by Heiko Schon / Translation: Andrej Huesener / Photos: Monika Ritterhaus


Don Pasquale - Komische Oper Berlin
Ensemble
Photo: Monika Ritterhaus

Dutch director Jetske Mijnssen scores the biggest cheers of the night for her idea to bring a fellow Dutch woman on stage for her Don Pasquale production. None other than Dutch TV presenter sweetheart Linda de Mol, best known in Germany for her Traumhochzeit [Dream Wedding] show, marries the two main characters. Fully equipped with handbag, business card and makeup utensils, the Linda character steals the scene: a hopeless romantic in the shape of a tall woman, played of course by a man who's 6 foot 10. However, Ingo Witzke doesn't seem quite at home in drag, either due to stage fright on opening night, or because cross-dressing just isn't his cup of tea: his notary remains a farmer in a frock. Cross-dressing is not really a new idea in Donizetti productions, but it would have been an opportunity to shine. However, like so much else in this production, the opportunity is wasted a pity as two interesting new approaches do stand out:


Don Pasquale - Komische Oper Berlin
Jens Larsen (Don Pasquale), Chorsolisten
Photo: Monika Ritterhaus

Idea number 1: An old man has a late midlife crisis and wants a young woman to keep him company during his late years. This scenario offers plenty of opportunity for irony and sarcasm. Mijnssen ignores this potential and prefers instead an approach akin to "Carry On" slapstick. Jens Larsen as Don Pasquale throws himself courageously behind the concept, but the barked phrases his rather rough voice produce have nothing to do with true belcanto singing. Idea number 2 is followed through more consistently; it has to do with how the characters relate to one another. The marriage between Don Pasquale and Norina (introduced to her future would-be husband as Sofronia) is a swindle set up by Malatesta. Norina and Malatesta, in Mijnssen's interpretation a pair of crooks keen on making a quick buck, also plan to cheat Pasquale's nephew Ernesto. However, this is presented in such a flimsy and dramatically uninvolving way that the characters' actions don't make much sense. One minute Ernesto is reading a porn magazine, the next he suddenly threatens suicide, making it difficult for the audience to follow—and care about—the characters' motivations, what with constant confusing allusions to money, sex and true love. In the final scene, Don Pasquale climbs into his death bed not caring who will inherit his money—nor does the audience.


Don Pasquale - Komische Oper Berlin
Ensemble
Photo: Monika Ritterhaus

Paul Zoller's stage design for the funeral parlour—all blue hues—is trivial, Arien de Vries's costumes are ugly to the extreme. Only Norina's high heel shoes and the giant mirror ball at the beginning of Act 3 transport us. To top it all off, we're not spared an inevitable theatre pistol nor constant copulation, staged here under a wobbly coffin. Speaking of wobbly: the Komische Oper Orchestra conducted by Maurizio Barbacini hasn't played in such an unfocused way in quite a long time. The overture was about to fall apart; solo singers were left to their own devices in some of the ensembles. Most of these problems will be resolved in the next performances, but Donizetti needs to be played with more verve. Adrian Strooper is vocally tight (partly to blame is the rather problematic German translation: the parlando is hardly unintelligible); Günter Papendell has a ball playing swarmy Malatesta but needs to contain his powerful vibrato. However, there is one outstanding reason to buy a ticket: Christiane Karg's Norina is lovely and cheeky, her voice colour reminiscent of Lucia Popp. We finally hear true belcanto singing when in her first aria Karg fires off one bravura coloratura after another.



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