I watched the Met's HD Theatre performance of Don Pasquale today in kind of an echo chamber. No fault of the theatre; it was all in my head. We'd seen a live presentation of this production at the Met back in 2006. Matthew Polenzani as Ernesto today was easy listening: his voice is smooth and engaging and his performance energetic. But in the background I kept hearing Juan Diego Flórez who though perhaps not as smooth contributed an edgy vocal comedy that nobody working right now seems able to match. Anna Netrebko as Norina was the same--but wait, no, she's not the same: in the meantime, she had a baby. Her physique is more, shall we say maternal and her voice, while just as appealing is deeper or fuller, perhaps both. I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that she is moving onto a different, more mature, sort of repertoire.
One who stayed the same was Mariusz Kwiecien as Ernesto. Structurally, it's an odd part. He's a schemer, not a lover; but he and Netrebko have more interchange than she and the romantic lead do. They've played it together now over several years, and as they say themselves in the interval, this kind of comic narrative is essentially an improv piece, where you get to make up--and improv--your riffs as they go along. They've got the chemistry and the energy to a high point now--so much so you can forget that the romantic lead is even there.
So, a good show. But I mustn't forget to mention what may have been the musical high point of the day--of all things, the overture, conducted by James Levine. We're told that this is the first time Levine has ever conducted Don Pasquale. So, maybe he hasn't had time to go stale. Still, his--and the orchestra's--rendering of the overture was one of the most fully-realized musical presentations I've ever heard from that pit; good enough so you were tempted to leave after the overture on the principle that the rest of the performance wasn't pretty good. And it wasn't, but it was good enough, and I'm glad I didn't leave.