Opera Daily 🎶 — “Com'è gentil” from Don Pasquale
Today we’re listening to…
“Com'è gentil”, a tenor aria from Act 3 of the Italian opera Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti. In the garden, Ernesto sings of his love for Norina, as he waits for her arrival (Com'è gentil – "How lovely"). He describes the beautiful night and that he wishes to be with her.
📺 Watch and listen here (4 minute listen), Tenor Tito Schipa singing “Com'è gentil”, from Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti. I find Schipa’s interpretation of this piece so calming and satisfying. No bigs sounds, just one beautiful singing line after another. I love the way Edmund St. Austell describes the beauty of Tito Schipa and the secret of his success:
The answers are not hard to find, and they are a great lesson to all who aspire to sing: first, he was a superb musician. No endless fermatas, no invented notes. Even more importantly, he was a master of style: the precise reason for any song or aria he sang was always clear to the audience, and, more importantly, to him. His enunciation was crystal clear, and one can understand every single word he sings. He possessed, in abundance, a musical and stylistic understanding sufficient to make him an absolute master of the musical line. Line is perhaps the greatest of all the artistic attributes necessary to sing beautifully and—all too often—one of the rarest.
Com’è gentil la notte a mezzo april!
È azzurro il ciel, la luna è senza vel.
How lovely is a mid-April night,
the sky is blue, the moon clear and bright.
Don Pasquale’s straightforward story and lightness make it highly accessible to any audience.
An older man decides to find a young bride.
His friend wants to teach him a lesson, so he arranges for a young woman to pretend to agree to marry the older man, then makes his life miserable.
The plot gets a bit more complicated because the young woman (Norina) is engaged to another man, the older man's nephew (Ernesto), and they use the trick to get his blessing for their marriage.
The old bachelor Don Pasquale plans to marry to punish his nephew, Ernesto, who is in love with the young widow Norina. Dr. Malatesta (mah-lah-TEST-ah) agrees to help the couple. The wealthy old bachelor, Don Pasquale, has decided to find a wife that can help him produce an heir, cutting out his nephew, Ernesto, out of his inheritance. Refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, Ernesto (ehr-NEST-oh) is devastated to think of a life without Norina. Dottore Malatesta, a friend of Ernesto and Don Pasquale (pahss-KWAHL-ay), helps the couple develop a plan to trick Don Pasquale into giving the couple permission to be married with Ernesto’s inheritance. Disguised, Norina (no-REE-nah) is married to Don Pasquale in a fake ceremony and then wreaks havoc on Don Pasquale’s life. After a series of hilarious moments, the plan works, and Don Pasquale allows Ernesto to marry Norina, stating that marriage is not suited for an older man such as himself.
Gaetano Donizetti was the master of bel canto. Bel canto is a style of singing in Italian opera from the mid-18th to early 19th centuries (we touched on this in a previous post when discussing Joan Sutherland). Donizetti had quite a life. At the age of nine, he started his musical training and, throughout his life, composed 70 operas. His most prominent operas include Anna Bolena (1830), L’elisir d’amore (1832), Maria Stuarda (1835), Lucia di Lammermoor (1835), La fille du régiment (1840) and Don Pasquale (1843). Donizetti wrote his fair share of comedies throughout his career. While L’Elisir d’Amore remains his most popular comedy, Don Pasquale is always a favorite.
Here are some other interpretations of “Com'è gentil”:
LISTEN Juan Diego Florez
LISTEN Alfredo Kraus
LISTEN Enrico Caruso
LISTEN Luciano Pavarotti
Want to listen to the full opera?
LISTEN Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti, EMI with Mirella Freni, Sesto Bruscantini, Gösta Winbergh and Leo Nucci conducted by Riccardo Muti and the Philharmonia Orchestra and Ambrosian Chorus, 1988
LISTEN Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Nuccia Focile , Gregory Kunde, Lucio Gallo, Claudio Giombi, Director: Ricardo Muti, Teatro alla Scala, 1994
Have questions about this opera or this post? Drop your questions in the comments, and we will share more!
Thank you for reading (and listening),
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Schipa is always astounding; BUT his cozy relationship with Mussolini was not.
When I'm not terribly excited about an aria, my mind tends to wander. Such was the case with Gaetano Donizetti's “Com'è gentil”. I may have become too attached to dramatic flourishes and vocal acrobatics in opera to appreciate a simple folk melody like this one. It's also quite possible that I will never be a fan of farces like "Der Rosenkavalier" and "Don Pasquale". Yet I remain open-minded to listening to the full opera at some point.
I enjoyed being introduced to Tito Schipa through the Edmund St. Austell blog. Curiosity led me to watch Tito Schipa's Jr.'s documentary on his father's career on stage and in film (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlWn6qbcWz4), as well as his farewell concert in The Netherlands (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47irPWFDuqA). Being chummy with Il Duce certainly tarnishes his legacy.
To go from Schipa to Juan Diego Florez was to go from a performance I found sweet and elegant to one I found a little bit sappy. Then again, a besotted Italian lover just might sound that way. I adore Pavarotti, even though his voice seemed bigger than the music called for.
As I wandered around YouTube, I also discovered Ferruccio Tagliavini, another lyric tenor, and got caught up in his appearances in a series of TV kinescopes from the1950s (https://youtu.be/IOmpSbA3qMI).
Next to Schipa, my favorite lyric tenor in this series was Alfredo Kraus. When I read about his life and career in the obituary penned by Diane Haitman, I thought about the recent Opera Daily lesson on (https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1999-sep-11-mn-8891-story.html) opera singers who cross over into other musical genres. Kraus, she wrote ". . . never accepted a supporting role. He also spurned all offers to perform in popular musicals or mass appeal opera concerts."
She also quoted Kraus as saying: “For me, to live and breathe a role is far more important than singing it to perfection, because a perfect voice can be as dull as dishwater,” he has said. “What the public must understand is that singing is a matter of musicality, sensitivity, personality, and above all, maturity.” Who would disagree with this opinion, but what other variables might be considered?