This page was last updated on: April 28, 2006

Don Pasquale, New York Metropolitan Opera, March/April 2006
Photo of  Juan Diego Flórez, Anna Netrebko, and Mariusz Kwiecien by Marty Sohl

A Grand Night at the Opera, New York Sun, 3 April 2006
Opera Disaster Averted, New York Post, 3 April 2006
'Don Pasquale' in a New Production at the Met by Otto Schenk, New York Times, 3 April 2006
Don Pasquale, Metropolitan Opera, New York, Financial Times, 3 April 2006
Vamping taints an all-too-merry widow, Newsday, 4 April 2006
Netrebko romps through Met's 'Pasquale', Associated Press, 8 April 2006
Surprise Ending, New York Magazine, 17 April 2006
Don Pasquale - April 3 & 7, Stephen Cutler, Opera-L, 10 April 2006 [external link]
Legacy Of Phony Naturalism, Gay City News,Volume 5, Number 16, 20-26 April 2006
A Grand Night at the Opera
Jay Nordlinger, New York Sun, 3 April 2006

It promised to be a wonderful time at the Metropolitan Opera - and it was. What had been so promising? Well, first, the opera was "Don Pasquale," Donizetti's fabulous farce about an old man who contrives to get married, wanting to disinherit his nephew, and ... But if you get into the plot of an opera buffa, you get into the weeds.

Second, the cast featured two of the most impressive singers going: Anna Netrebko, the hot stuff Russian soprano, and Juan Diego Florez, the young Peruvian who is king of bel canto tenors (current ones).

And third, this was to be the Met swan song of Otto Schenk, the great Austrian director who is responsible for some of the company's best productions, including its "Ring" cycle. This new "Pasquale" is Mr. Schenk's 16th show for the Met, and, he has averred, his last.

So, Friday night was the kind of night you're ready to enjoy. How fortunate it was enjoyable.

The enjoyment began with the overture, which - as a traditional overture - previews some of the opera's hit tunes, beginning with the lovely tenor serenade "Com'e gentil."

And starry as Miss Netrebko and Mr. Florez are, neither was better than the bass-baritone singing the title role, the Italian Simone Alaimo. Met audiences heard him earlier this season as Don Magnifico in Rossini's "Cenerentola," and he showed then an operatic savvy that returned on Friday night: in spades.

Mr. Alaimo made a winner of a Pasquale. The character was buffoonish, of course - consider the genre - but not too buffoonish. Even if a man is ridiculous to the world, he must not be ridiculous to himself, and Don Pasquale is not.

What's more, Mr. Alaimo sang very, very cleanly, and that cleanness applied to his diction, too. And he enjoyed himself - enjoyed himself to the hilt. They all did.

Having a delightful time as Norina was Miss Netrebko. When we first saw her, she was lying down, showing off her legs. You can't blame the director (or her).Then she showed off her singing in the famous set piece "Quel guardo il cavaliere ... So anch'io."

Miss Netrebko is not a typical bel canto singer: The voice is a little dark - Slavic - and also a little heavy. Not that I'm asking for a chirpy Norina, mind you; Norinas need not chirp. But Miss Netrebko could have used a bit more flexibility and radiance.

Regardless, she sang "Quel guardo ..." with skill and style. She sharped, just a little, but she also sang several high Cs that were accurate and free. Indeed, she tossed out high Cs all evening long, and only one was imperfect (sagging).

At the end of that set piece, she executed a somersault - yes, a somersault - and showed off her legs again. The audience went nutso. Miss Netrebko did not break character and bow, but she did give a little wave, to shut them up.

As the opera progressed, she acted up a storm - maybe too much of a storm. Did you know that Miss Netrebko had so much ham in her? But she was a joy to behold. When things were winding down, she stood on the prompter's box, to deliver what amounts to the moral of the story. She sang directly to the audience; they were eating out of her hand.

Mr. Florez, in the role of Ernesto, was in very fine form. He sang clearly and easily. He has that quick vibrato in the voice - occasionally a little bleat - but one gets used to that. And he can be counted on to evince a beautiful sense of line. Moreover, he was entirely convincing as the youth Ernesto - a bonus.

Eating up the role of Dr. Malatesta was the Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien. Like other New Yorkers, I've heard him in a variety of roles - and in a variety of music - but had never heard him in bel canto. He turns out to be a natural. The voice is ever gorgeous, and he can take it for a ride, through Donizettian passagework. And, boy, did he have fun, playing Malatesta as a slick dude (complete with sunglasses), giving poor Pasquale a headache.

The Met's famed character tenor, Anthony Laciura, served as the Notary. (Isn't there always a notary in opera?) Mr. Laciura needs only a minute to make a mark on an evening. He entered blowing his nose, loudly - why wouldn't he?

You might ask how Mr. Florez handled that pretty serenade, "Com'e gentil." Ah: Before the final scene, the Met's general manager, Joseph Volpe, came out to make an announcement: Mr. Florez had suffered an "allergic attack," and could not go on. He would be replaced by Barry Banks - who just happens to be one of our finest lyric tenors. At his best, he sings like an angel. And he was at his best late Friday night (about 10:30).

Ideally, you would have a single Ernesto, in one performance of "Don Pasquale." But to hear Juan Diego Florez and Barry Banks in the course of the same show - that's not such a bad deal.

Conducting this affair was Maurizio Benini, who has also been conducting Verdi's "Luisa Miller" for the Met. James Levine was scheduled to do "Pasquale," but he injured himself a month ago, causing much sorrow in the opera world (and the symphonic world, and elsewhere). On Friday night, Mr. Benini was competent, and sometimes a cut above that.

The orchestra was in fairly good shape. Donizetti provides many solo opportunities, and I will report on how one such opportunity went: In the overture, the French horn was superbly mellifluous.

The chorus has a turn, too, when Don Pasquale's house overflows with workers, hired by the conniving Norina. The Met's bunch sang spiritedly, even sparklingly.

There is something poetic about Otto Schenk's ending his illustrious run at the Met with a "Don Pasquale." He began his directorial career with a "Pasquale" - not at the Met, but at the ViennaVolksoper, in 1961. His new production is Schenkian: smart, interesting, and appropriate. This director has often been knocked for his "conservatism"; that often means that he has not ruined an opera with ego and extremism.

Sets and costumes are by Rolf Langenfass, and they fill the bill. Don Pasquale's home is in a pleasant state of neglect - of bachelor not-caring.

After the cast and conductors had taken their bows, Mr. Schenk emerged, rather shyly. The audience roared its approval, for this particular production, to be sure, but mainly for several decades of excellence.

So, this was a grand night at the opera (though not a night of grand opera). The four principal singers - five, if you count Barry Banks! - could not have had more fun, and if you didn't have fun with them, you were not meant to attend. This was an experience kissed with Italian sunshine, and sauce.

Opera Disaster Averted
Clive Barnes, New York Post, 3 April 2006

Opera seria nearly pushed out opera buffa at the Metropolitan Opera House on Friday night where Donizetti's great comedy "Don Pasquale" was coming to the final scene of its premiere with the company's dream-team cast.

General Manager Joseph Volpe - this was his last new production before his retirement - came in front of the curtain to announce that his star tenor, the Peruvian Juan Diego Florez, had been felled by allergies and could not continue.

After a few minutes break, he said, the opera would continue with Florez's standby, Barry Banks, as the hero Ernesto. Unfortunately, Ernesto's principal aria in the opera - the fiendishly difficult but enchanting Serenade - awaited the unwarmed-up Banks.

No one need have worried. The fine British tenor acquitted himself beautifully, and disaster was averted.

Before Florez's withdrawal, the evening had been going fine, mixing vocal fireworks with comic clockwork. Florez himself seemed in good voice, perhaps a little tight at the top, but his aristocratic lyric phrasing reminded me of the old 1932 recording with Tito Schipa - this is what such singing is all about.

Of course, the commanding role of "Don Pasquale" is that of Norina (Anna Netrebko), Ernesto's beloved, who, helped by the conniving Dr. Malatesta (Mariusz Kwiecien), dupes the miserly, crusty Pasquale (Simone Alaimo), Ernesto's uncle, into a fake marriage, finally paving the way for Ernesto and herself to live cheerfully ever after.

Netrebko's effervescent minx-like Norina, flashed a voice to die for, dazzlingly negotiated Donizetti's fearsome fioritura with flair and acted with rare abandon.

The splendid Polish baritone Kwiecien and Alaimo's handsomely routined and powerfully sonorous Pasquale completed the glossily stylish quartet.

Veteran Otto Schenk's boisterously comic staging, much enhanced by the sets and costumes by Rolf Langenfass, demonstrated the often underrated operatic value of tradition.

'Don Pasquale' in a New Production at the Met by Otto Schenk
Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, 3 April 2006

Savvy directors and actors understand that the only way to make a rich comedy truly funny is to take it seriously. For a brilliant demonstration of this principle in action, go to the Metropolitan Opera for the director Otto Schenk's wonderful new production of Donizetti's "Don Pasquale," which opened on Friday night.

Back home in Vienna, Mr. Schenk, a veteran Austrian director, is also a celebrated actor with an acclaimed knack for comedy. A humane yet tough comic sensibility infuses this insightful production of Donizetti's lyrical late comic opera. The Met has given Mr. Schenk a marvelous cast, especially the charismatic soprano Anna Netrebko in a portrayal of Norina that dazzled Friday night's audience. The look of the production, with sets and costumes by Rolf Langenfass, may be traditional. But by tapping into the emotions that run just below the surface of this familiar story about a crusty and miserly old bachelor  jealousy, desire, resentment, fear of death  Mr. Schenk prods us to see this work in a provocatively new way.

It is clear when the curtain goes up that Don Pasquale is facing a late-life crisis. His Roman villa has fallen into sad disrepair. A once-grand staircase winds through dingy walls; a column supporting the whole house is propped up by a wood beam. Don Pasquale, the appealing Italian bass Simone Alaimo, has gone to pot, a tubby and disheveled old man. Too apathetic to sleep in an upstairs room, Pasquale has set up a lonely bed with ragged curtains in the downstairs foyer.

Pasquale is distressed by his dashing and shiftless young nephew, Ernesto (the tenor Juan Diego Flórez) , who lives with him. He has tried to persuade Ernesto to marry a moneyed woman he chose for him, but the headstrong youth has fallen in love with a poor and lovely young widow, Norina. So Pasquale decides that he will take his own wife, produce his own heir and cut Ernesto out.

Though Mr. Alaimo may not have a glamorous voice, he is fine singer, a subtle actor and a master of bel canto style. In a pivotal moment, Pasquale tells the crushed Ernesto that their mutual friend, Dr. Malatesta, has arranged his own marriage to Malatesta's sister, the virginal and modest Sofronia. Gloating, this Pasquale delivers the news with nasty vehemence, pumped up with a newfound, however ridiculous, manliness.

Actually, Dr. Malatesta is on Ernesto's side, and Sofronia is none other than Norina, in on a scheme to teach Pasquale a lesson. In Mr. Schenk's staging Norina lives in a tiny rooftop garret with a large sunny terrace. When we meet her, the lovely Ms. Netrebko is reclining in a lounge chair reading aloud from a sappy romantic novel, using one foot to scratch an itch on the other, her shapely white legs catching the sunlight

Ms. Netrebko tosses the book aside and breaks into Norina's sprightly aria about love, saying, basically, "I know all about how women use their wiles, and it's nothing like what's in this silly book." The aria often comes off as coquettish and cute. Not here. Ms. Netrebko, her rich voice filling the auditorium, her radiant top notes stopping your breath, struts about her terrace, even turning a somersault on the lounge chair, looking like someone you don't want to cross. There was so much intensity in her singing you would have thought she was performing Lucia's "Mad Scene." The house, understandably, went wild.

Yet after "Sofronia" marries Pasquale (in a fake ceremony), this obliging wife turns into a shrewish and bossy spendthrift. At one point, when Pasquale tries to stand up to her, she slaps him  hard. As Mr. Alaimo broke into Donizetti's despairing music, "È finita Don Pasquale," a broken man, Ms. Netrebko seemed genuinely pained, as if maybe the joke was going too far. It was a poignant moment in this supposed farce.

Dr. Malatesta is the instigator of the scheme, and the whole opera. The dynamic young Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien was mesmerizing in the role, his robust voice matched by his robust physique. There were sparks of sexual chemistry between his character and Ms. Netrebko's, which lent another intriguing element to the story. James Levine had been scheduled to conduct this production. In his place Maurizio Benini gave a lively and stylish account of the score.

Though Mr. Flórez looked adorable as Ernesto, he sounded vocally strained during the first two acts. Before Act III Joseph Volpe, general manager of the Met, came on stage to announce that Mr. Flórez had suffered an "allergic attack" and would be replaced by Barry Banks for the final act. This English tenor brought a clarion voice to his ardent singing of Ernesto's famous serenade and won a grateful ovation from the audience, too happy with the whole show to mind Mr. Flórez's departure.

Don Pasquale, Metropolitan Opera, New York
Martin Bernheimer, Financial Times, 3 April 2006

It was one of those gosh-we're-great nights at the opera. The mighty Met, ever true to yesterday, celebrated stylistic retrogression while mustering its first Don Pasquale in 26 years. Otto Schenk, grand old man of Austrian kitsch, was coaxed out of retirement for a final fling at let's-pretend stage-direction. Rolf Langenfass provided dauntlessly picturesque decors. The cast looked stellar on paper, and the proud first-nighters registered push-button approval. Too bad the wonders ceased.

If all had gone as planned, James Levine would have presided in the pit for an unaccustomed exploration of Donizetti. Sidelined by injury, however, the supermaestro ceded the baton to Maurizio Benini, a competent, idiomatic routinier. Forget illumination.

Schenk concentrated on funny business as usual, with two innovations. He placed old Pasquale in period garb, but attired his young nemeses in something akin to modern dress. Generations in conflict, get it? He also allowed  encouraged?  Anna Netrebko, the glamour-diva-du-jour cast as Norina, to treat the scene as her personal camping ground. She preened, purred, twitched, gesticulated, cackled, grimaced, beamed, waved to the crowd, wiggled her toes, danced, pranced, twirled, somersaulted (yes, somersaulted), modelled a mock-Tosca costume for comic effect, flashed a lot of bare leg, sang brightly and loudly, forgot to trill, and mushed the Italian text. The fans adored her.

The talents surrounding the hyperactive prima donna did their best to keep up. Obviously indisposed, Juan Diego Flórez exerted agile charm as Ernesto but sounded nasal and tight, avoided the vocal stratosphere (usually his special domain), and ultimately gave up. After an extended interval, Barry Banks replaced him gallantly in the last scene. Providing a certain calm amid the storms, Simone Alaimo nearly managed to balance buffoonery and pathos in the title role, and Mariusz Kwiecien exerted dapper authority as Malatesta.

This production, not incidentally, served as the final premiere in Joseph Volpe's 16-year regime as Met general manager. Call it a last semi-hurrah.

Vamping taints an all-too-merry widow
Marion Lignana Rosenberg, Newsday, 4 April 2006

It all looked so promising on paper: Four winning principals in Donizetti's "Don Pasquale," the wise and urbane 1843 masterpiece last heard at the Metropolitan Opera more than a quarter-century ago.

Alas, that the task of staging "Don Pasquale" was entrusted to Otto Schenk. A house regular since 1968, Schenk is best known locally for his Met production of "The Ring of the Nibelungen," which embalms Wagner's would-be revolutionary saga in caveman kitsch. For "Don Pasquale," an end-of-an-era work that gently parodies the musical and dramatic stuff of earlier comic operas, Schenk served up a mishmash of slapstick cliches: overblown hand gestures, rickety furniture that gives way when sat upon, a chorus of servants who twitch and shimmy as if at a hoedown.

Schenk also allowed his leading lady to run amok. Anna Netrebko's incessant mugging ensured that she was the center of attention but eclipsed the character of Donizetti's Norina, a respectable young widow who pretends to be a shrewish tramp during her sham marriage to the old bachelor Don Pasquale. Netrebko played Norina as a harpy from first scene to last, preening and vamping like a frenzied slattern.

Netrebko also indulged in idiocy such as waves to the house while supposedly in character. It was the most self-serving performance this writer has ever witnessed; nonetheless the audience ate up every last bit of it. The soprano was in lustrous but thick voice, with her pitch tending to sag, her vowels sometimes lugubrious, and her handling of musical intricacies less than fastidious.

With an unlovable Norina, the motivations of Dr. Malatesta, her friend and confidant, and Ernesto, her forlorn fiance, remained opaque. As Malatesta, baritone Mariusz Kwiecien was a sly presence, his tone perhaps a touch too muscular than is ideal for the role, but glamorous and healthy.

Tenor Juan Diego Flórez withdrew before the final act, citing an allergy attack. While his voice was under obvious pressure at the top of its range, he still turned in the evening's finest singing: an inward, velvety "Sogno soave e casto" and a "Cercherò lontana terra," graced by verbal sensitivity and irresistible warmth. To Barry Banks fell the thankless task of performing Ernesto's most difficult music on short notice, and he acquitted himself splendidly, with gorgeously tapered phrases in the serenade and a lovely lilt to "Tornami a dir che m'ami."

As Don Pasquale, Simone Alaimo was in rich voice, and his pellucid enunciation was a joy to hear, but his character's emotional arc - the heartbreak of a doddering old fool who is the victim of a too-cruel joke - was obscured by the relentless shtick going on around him.

Maurizio Benini led a deliciously frothy account of the overture but deferred too often to his singers, and Rolf Langenfass designed the handsome sets and costumes.

Netrebko romps through Met's 'Pasquale'
Mike Silverman, Associated Press, 8 April 2006

This will go down as the season Metropolitan Opera audiences fell in love with Anna Netrebko.

The Russian soprano, with voice and acting ability to match her raven-haired beauty, is currently romping through the company's first production in a quarter-century of Donizetti's sometimes-frothy, sometimes-poignant comic opera "Don Pasquale."

As the spirited young widow Norina, what Netrebko exhibits more than anything is charisma. She holds the audience in the palm of her hand whether she's flirting with her friend Dr. Malatesta, slapping the face of the old buffoon Don Pasquale after she's tricked him into marriage, or caressing her true love, Pasquale's nephew Ernesto.

Whatever antics the Otto Schenk production requires, she is equal to them - performing a somersault in her chaise lounge or bounding up a staircase two steps at a time. And she finds plenty of opportunity in Rolf Langenfass's costumes to show off her shapely legs and bosom.

Her singing? It's frequently gorgeous and always interesting, though her dark, hard-edged sound may not be ideal for Donizetti's bubbly melodies and light-as-air orchestration. She is no slouch in the coloratura department, however, with a nice trill and a strong upper register that carries her easily above high C.

Netrebko already made a dazzling impression earlier this season in a very different role, as the naive, tragic Gilda in Verdi's "Rigoletto," where she triumphed alongside her frequent co-star, tenor Rolando Villazon.

Here she is partnered by tenor Juan Diego Florez, who was indisposed on opening night a week earlier but seemed to be back in prime form. His tight, somewhat nasal sound isn't everyone's cup of tea, but he sings with unforced ardor and stylish flair.

The other cast members were exemplary. Baritone Mariusz Kwiecien as Malatesta confirmed the impression he gave earlier this season in Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" that he is a fast-rising star. Bass-baritone Simone Alaimo managed to make the title character both foolish and sympathetic in his self-delusion.

Conductor Maurizio Benini, filling in for an injured James Levine, led the orchestra in an energetic performance of the overture and kept things humming nicely throughout the evening.

Schenk's production, his last in a long career of Met engagements, has proven controversial with the critics, some of whom complained about the casual updating of the costumes and felt that some of Norina's hijinks cheapened the comedy. But it, like its star, is definitely a crowd pleaser.

Until this season Netrebko had appeared only sporadically at the Met since her 2002 debut as Natasha in Prokofiev's "War and Peace." But the company knows when it has box-office magic, and she is slated to return regularly in coming seasons, including next year in Bellini's "I Puritani," Puccini's "La Boheme," and in a gala concert with Villazon to celebrate the Met's 40th anniversary at its Lincoln Center home.

She is scheduled for five more performances of "Don Pasquale" this month, including the Saturday matinee on April 15, which will be broadcast live on the radio.

Surprise Ending
Peter G. Davis, New York Magazine, 17 April 2006

The Met's least-inventive director turns in a bizarre swan song. But the stars of his Don Pasquale sound (and look) great.

For nearly 40 years, the Austrian actor-director Otto Schenk has been a major force in defining the sober, conservative, inoffensively representative production styles that older Metropolitan Opera audiences seem to enjoy best. Seen in that light, Schenk's ultrabusy new staging of Donizetti's charming opera buffa Don Pasquale, announced as his final Met project, is an astonishing nonstop celebration of vulgar comic shtick. What a difference from Schenk's most familiar and frequently revived Met production: Wagner's epic "Ring" cycle, a literal-minded, storybook approach that is not so much comfortably traditional as it is theatrically inert and intellectually brain-dead. You may not like his Don Pasquale either, but no one can say that nothing happens.

Perhaps Schenk is still in an antic mood, having recently appeared as Miss Prism back home in Vienna in an all-male production of Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. In any case, the delicate touches that warm Donizetti's poignant human comedy, based on old Roman commedia dell'arte archetypes, are mostly absent here. The opera retells the age-old tale of what happens when Don Pasquale foolishly weds a timid young girl who turns shrewish on their wedding night and teaches him a hard lesson in life before returning to her true love, Pasquale's impecunious nephew Ernesto. In Schenk's view, Norina is a nasty piece of work, a terminal bitch who actually seems to enjoy torturing lovesick old men. Dr. Malatesta, Pasquale's friend who arranges the fake match, is even more of a rat, slinking about in dark glasses and a zoot suit as though he really were a professional pimp from the Via Veneto. Both Pasquale and Ernesto are the passive victims of these two sleazes, and they haven't got a chance.

The starry cast gleefully falls in with the repulsive concept. Looking like a model out of Vogue, Anna Netrebko would turn the eye of any roué as she lounges about her penthouse apartment, kicking her legs in the air and hanging her frilly unmentionables on the line. Netrebko is, of course, one of opera's hottest properties at the moment, gorgeous to behold, comfortable onstage, and blessed with an attractively textured, skillfully managed lyric soprano. What I miss right now is that last extra touch of discipline, concentration, and commitment that would give this potentially fine singer sharper focus and make an indulgent star turn, even a misconceived one, into a real performance.

Juan Diego Flórez is the preferred bel canto tenor of the day, and with good reason. Not only does he imbue every florid phrase with precision and elegance, but he manages to project a delightfully appealing boyish vulnerability that shines through all the tired gags he is asked to perform. On opening night, he had to miss the last scene owing to an "allergic reaction" (Barry Banks took over with honor), but his Ernesto was still the production's saving grace. Simone Alaimo in the title role more or less faded into the scenery, while Mariusz Kwiecien's suave baritone was pretty much wasted on Dr. Malatesta. Maurizio Benini had the orchestra playing stylishly, and Rolf Langenfass's humidity-drenched sets (more Sicily than Rome) are easy on the eyes. What this Don Pasquale needs most urgently is to be restaged, as soon as possible.

Legacy Of Phony Naturalism
James Jorden, Gay City News,Volume 5, Number 16. 20-26 April 2006

"Don Pasquale" is not the easiest opera to bring off dramatically under the best of circumstances. But that hardly excuses the ineptitude of Otto Schenk's staging of the Donizetti comedy at the Metropolitan Opera, seen April 3.

The classic plot of teaching an old man a lesson by marrying him off to a shrew can seem cruel today, especially when you consider that the median age of the Met audience is somewhere over 60. For the comedy to be genuinely funny, the stage director and the performers have to find a way to demonstrate Pasquale's obstinate foolishness to the audience instead of expecting them to take it on faith.

Unfortunately, Schenk's production does not address or even acknowledge these issues. The designs for the sets and costumes by Rolf Langenfass are in a style that could be called Sybilism, after The Sybil B. Harrington Endowment Fund that has bankrolled many of the Met's least interesting productions of the past quarter century. The hallmark of the Syblilistic style is a minutely detailed naturalism that paradoxically manages to appear utterly phony.

The effect is decorative but lifeless, with as little meaning as a department store's Christmas window display. Schenk's contribution consisted of little more than traffic direction and the occasional hoary sight gag. The production looked particularly listless in contrast to the deluxe cast. Simone Alaimo in the title role gave a traditional performance in the very best sense of the word, playing up to the audience and landing every syllable of the text. But this is the kind of performance any old pro can give in an under rehearsed provincial revival; surely audiences at the Met deserve something more polished.

Tenor Juan Diego Flórez returned to the cast after an allergy attack sidelined him on opening night. Only the slightest hint of strain toward the end of his long second-act aria marred an otherwise deliciously sung performance. His light, utterly true voice is a delight in itself; what a bonus, then, that his performance is so elegantly musical, though never self-conscious or precious. The juvenile leads in comic opera do not offer much in the way of acting challenges, but Flórez's boyish charm brings to life even the stick figure of lovesick Ernesto.

The roar that greeted Anna Netrebko's curtain call is ample evidence that the audience adored her Norina. Netrebko is a beautiful woman and a sincere, committed performer whose pearly lyric soprano surmounts the coloratura challenges of the role with gusto. And yet, even for a star in a star role, sometimes less is more.

In her opening aria, Norina sings "Conosco i mille modi dell'amorose frodi," which means something like "I know a thousand ways to play the game of love." This Norina, alas, knew only one way, an over-the-top "Taming of the Shrew" slattern act. Something of this coarseness infected her singing toofrom time to time high notes turned harsh and glassy. There is no doubt that Netrebko is a star; all she needs is a little editing to become a great artist.

La Netrebko could learn a thing or two by observing her colleague Mariusz Kwiecien, the gifted baritone who sang Malatesta. This is a voice born for bel canto, warm and silky with a fascinating dark tint. The legato is as near perfect as makes no difference, and his Italian patter held its own against the native Alaimo's. Kwiecien matched Netrebko antic for antic, and yet, the baritone never seemed to break a sweat. Kwiecien's talent is going to be an enormous asset to the incoming Peter Gelb administration; which is a lot more than I can say for the production he was singing in.