The Sony Opera House collection has released some very fine recordings at bargain prices and this is no exception. "Don Pasquale" is a work that has not fared especially well on record and this version is right up there with the best of them.
Renato Bruson is, perhaps, unusual casting in the title role, but how good it is to hear the part so well sung rather than having to put up with an elderly buffo huffing and puffing his way through the music, however amusing that might be; it is equally good to hear a native Italian articulate Pasquale's patter so musically. The rest of the cast are non-Italians. The lovers are sung by Eva Mei and Frank Lopardo; both sing most stylishly, but I find Mr. Lopardo's voice rather thick for this music. Thomas Allen is a wonderfully witty and beautifully sung Malatesta; the occasional lack of resonance in his lower register notwithstanding (and Malatesta's music hardly plumbs the vocal depths!), how well this role suits his lyric baritone! (I remember seeing him in the role at Covent Garden some years ago and he was great then too!) The work is stylishly conducted by Roberto Abbado and the whole thing zips by with tremendous verve and élan. Indeed, my only complaint is his refusal to allow the singers to interpolate the customary (albeit unwritten) high notes we have come to expect in this music. This is especially frustrating when he has a line-up of singers supremely equipped to produce vocal fireworks; Eva Mei is a Queen of the Night, for goodness sake! It would, for instance, have been good to hear Bruson and Allen "go up" triumphantly at the end of their Act ii duet; I'm sure that scholarship says otherwise, but I know what I would like to hear! This is, however, a small quibble and should not put anyone off from buying this disc; it is an absolute bargain! As ever in this series, libretti are not included, but can always be accessed on line.
Don Pasquale has not done terribly well on CD compared with other Donizetti operas. However this recording is magnificent. Mei is slightly harsh-toned occasionally, but is very characterful. The men are excellent - Brunson sings Pasquale properly, Sir Thomas Allen is magnificent, and Lopado has a gentle yet subtle voice. Almost the best performer is Abbado, however, as the pacing is fabulous with a real feel for how to bring the best out of Donizetti's score. I loved it the first time I listened to it 10 years ago and have never had reason to change my mind.