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Confined to the house

'Don Pasquale' at Covent Garden,
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL


It is unfortunate that Jonathan Miller's new production of Don Pasquale coincided with one of those rather whining interviews to which he is prone. This had the effect of throwing even more critical attention onto the director than would be usual. The production is only new to Covent Garden and was seen in Florence in 2001. Miller stated in his interview that he had had trouble persuading Covent Garden to take the production and the general critical reaction has been 'I'm not surprised'.

The basic premise of the production is that all the action takes place in an eighteenth century doll's house; the entire stage from floor to proscenium is taken up by a dazzling set consisting of a doll's house cross-section with nine interconnecting rooms. Apart from the final scene in the garden, all the action takes place in the doll's house. This theme is only intermittently applied to the sets and costumes; crockery is oversized and the servants are done up as painted dolls but many of the props and costumes are simply realistic eighteenth century period, leaving us to wonder whether we are looking at a doll's house or at Don Pasquale's real house.

Simone Alaimo (Don Pasquale) and Tatiana Lisnic (Norina) in Jonathan Miller's production of 'Don Pasquale'. Photo © 2004 Bill Cooper
Simone Alaimo (Don Pasquale) and Tatiana Lisnic (Norina) in Jonathan Miller's production of 'Don Pasquale'. Photo © 2004 Bill Cooper

For the first two acts, Miller populates the house with just the essential cast -- Don Pasquale (Simone Alaimo), Dr Malatesta (Alessandro Corbelli), Ernesto (Juan Diego Flórez) and Norina (Tatiana Lisnic), plus Pasquale's three servants. These latter spend much of their time in the kitchen where one makes bread and another knits and they supply endless cups of tea to the various visitors. In the last act the entire house is populated by a busy assemblage of servants, all doing Norina's will.

The result is a dazzling theatrical tour-de-force, a testament to Miller's amazing theatrical imagination and his ability to get fine committed performances from his performers. But what is more puzzling is whether this was a satisfactory performance of the opera Don Pasquale.

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Copyright © 16 December 2004 Robert Hugill, London UK


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