Last night I went to see Don Pasquale at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, and I didn’t like it. The singing was very good all around (especially the men; I had some quibbles with the soprano which are not the focus of this post), but I just don’t enjoy the opera.
I realized that the reason I’ve been having so much trouble with Norina (if there is a reason–it might just be a beast of an aria, and the rest of the role is no better) is because I just don’t like her. She’s not a very nice person. None of them are. In fact, the character I sympathized with the most was Don Pasquale himself, mainly because the singer playing him had so much charisma onstage, but also because everybody gangs up on him for not much of a reason.
For those who are not familiar with Don Pasquale, the plot goes like this. Don Pasquale, a seventy-year-old merchant, wants to get married, so his friend Dr. Malatesta (ha!) sets him up with his sister, a beautiful young convent girl named Sofronia…who is actually Norina, the beloved of Don Pasquale’s nephew Ernesto…who is also anxious that his uncle shouldn’t get married because then he will no longer inherit. Don Pasquale marries “Sofronia,” who seems to be demure and sweet and everything he wanted, only to have to became a total hellion after the wedding (which was performed by a fake notary, so it wasn’t binding). She spends half of his money, re-decorates his home (from the cellar to the dome!), goes to the theater, etc., at which point he regrets having married her and restores her to Ernesto. And all is well?
My problem with this opera, I think, is that the “trick” is at the center of the plot. I talked to somebody a while ago (so long, in fact, that I can’t remember who it was) who said that they didn’t like operas where somebody was being tricked. I don’t usually have a problem with it, as long as there’s also some genuine emotion, or the trickery is for a good cause. In Le Nozze di Figaro, it’s established from the start that the reason they’re going to mess with the Count is because he’s cheating on his wife who adores him, and because Figaro and Susanna love each other and want to get married. Cosi fan tutte is mainly about Don Alfonso’s trickery, but I love that in Act II, Ferrando unexpectedly falls in love with Fiordiligi, throwing a wrench into the proceedings. L’Elisir d’Amore, which I prefer to Don Pasquale, features a charlatan traveling salesman who sells Nemorino the love potion (or philtre, if you will), which is actually only wine. But that act is really only the catalyst that allows Nemorino to win Adina’s heart at the end. (Speaking of Elixir, during intermission, feeling a little down because I wasn’t enjoying myself very much, I thought about “Adina, credimi” and started to cry. That was a theme of last night. The crying, not “Adina, credimi.”)
I know I don’t have to love every opera I see. Nobody does. But somewhere during Act II, I realized that I wasn’t even bothering to pay attention. I almost left at intermission, because the thought of sitting through another hour of opera was unbearable. Wasn’t this, at some point, what I wanted to do with my life? Which was kind of a troubling question. It does kind of feel like being a working classical singer requires a great deal of slogging through repertoire you don’t enjoy, and sometimes I ask myself at what point it’s acceptable to chuck the stuff that isn’t fun and focus on doing what you love (assuming that the singing is what you want to do).
After the opera, I walked a lot, listened to Joni Mitchell because I just needed to cry, and stood on the bridge across from the Eiffel Tower looking at the river for a while. And then I finally came home and went to bed, and got more sleep than I’ve gotten in days. I think the not sleeping caught up with me last night in a big way.
This morning I’ve been working on Figaro recitatives and I’m planning to venture out later with my Italian-English dictionary and my score to plough through some more translation. Energy = renewed.