Oozing Charm, a Heroine Sings, Seduces and Doesn’t Die

John Del Carlo
The New York Times

By Vivien Schweitzer

In Donizetti’s lighthearted opera “Don Pasquale,” the sweet, young wife of the title character quickly morphs into a belligerent, big-spending shrew. The soprano Anna Netrebko rendered this transition a comic tour de force when Otto Schenk’s charming production returned to the Metropolitan Opera on Friday evening.

Ms. Netrebko, who performs many tragic heroines, has said that she enjoys the chance to sing characters who don’t die. She certainly relished every moment onstage as Norina in this farce about an aging Don, who, irritated that his nephew Ernesto refuses to marry a suitable bride, decides to cut off his inheritance by getting married himself. Norina masquerades as Doctor Malatesta’s nunnish sister and marries the Don in a fake ceremony. After many antics, Ernesto and Norina (who are in love) are eventually united and forgiven by the Don.

Ms. Netrebko offered a vivid portrait of Norina, her fluid voice lustrous as she navigated the bel canto hurdles in a performance that was both physically energetic and vocally rich. She oozed seductive charm as she languished on her balcony, singing of love, and she turned demure — her voice taking on a suitably meek cast — as “Sofronia,” the Don’s new wife. Her transition to vixen was complete as she flounced down the stairs in hot-pink tights, tiara and velvet gown, flustering the hapless Don by her sudden metamorphosis from timid to tyrannical.

The bass-baritone John Del Carlo sang with a firm voice and embodied the decaying Don with arthritic flair. Initially creepy and lecherous in his decrepit surroundings, Mr. Del Carlo later evoked sympathy as his naughty bride overwhelmed him.

The electric chemistry between Ms. Netrebko and Mariusz Kwiecien, who sang with a mellifluous and burnished baritone as an unusually dashing Doctor Malatesta, would surely have made Ernesto jealous.

As Ernesto, Matthew Polenzani sang with a bright tenor and lovely phrasing, a performance that was all the more commendable since he had been up all night with his wife, who delivered a baby boy on Friday morning, a Met representative said.

James Levine conducted a lithe and buoyant reading that beautifully complemented the vocal and theatrical talents of this winning cast. But at the end of the show, for whatever reason, Mr. Levine, who underwent back surgery this year, did not emerge from the pit to take a bow with Mr. Schenk and the singers.