A few years ago I purchased a DVD of "Don Pasquale" produced by Teatro Lirico-Cagliari starring Eva Mei and Alessandro Corbelli. The singing was great, as expected, but I found the direction way too over-the-top. Everyone was mugging uncontrollably and it really got in the way of my enjoying the performance. Too bad, as the production was one of the most gorgeous and clever I'd ever seen. If only, I thought, the same production had been directed in a more subdued, realistic fashion.
Well, apparently the opera gods were paying attention to my plea, because here it is: the same production presented at LaScala, but this time toned down a notch. Admittedly it's a little TOO subdued at times (Ferruccio Furlanetto is not the natural comedian that Corbelli is), but if I complain too much in that regard, I'll be (rightly) opening myself up to accusations of never being satisfied. The production is still lovely, if not quite as sumptuous as I remember (egads, there I go again), but Riccardo Muti does miraculous things with the score, literally from first note to last. The cast is low-wattage -- not a Netrebko or Florez in the bunch -- but they're certainly up to the task, particularly Gregory Kunde, who's got a real Kenneth Branagh thing going on. (What that has to do with anything I'm not really sure.)
Of the "Pasquale"s out there, I'd say this is the best I've seen. I even think it beats the Florez version, which, like the Teatro Lirico one, has been directed like a Warner Brothers cartoon (complete with teddy bears). Thank you, Opera Gods, for listening to this opera lover's dilemma. Now, can you get Peter Gelb to tape Netrebko in the Met's Otto Schenk production?