When done well, Donizetti comedies combine slap-stick gags and tender emotion in a way that guarantees a good night out. There's almost something spiritual about the way singing can a elevate what is by all appearances a very flimsy farce into something that has you grinning and weeping in alternation.
When done badly - or even averagely - it feels like you've wasted your evening on something too trivial to even bother discusssing.
This was the case with last Saturday's performance of Don Pasquale at the Royal Opera House, despite its many qualities. Those who recall the ROH's superlative productions of L'Elisir d'Amore and La fille du régiment are in for a rather tepid shower.
The set is a Jonathan Miller classic - a huge doll house on three floors which is opened at the beginning. It looks fabulous and should have been an inspired idea, but somehow it constricted both the acting and the singing on Saturday. It was only when the singers moved into the garden in front of the house at the end that their voices started carrying with ease.
This is a pretty major flaw as it's only through beautiful singing that we feel any sympathy for characters as crudely drawn as these. As it was, my friend and I were left pretty cold by the whole silly affair.
The other problem was that the singers just didn't ham it up enough. The ROH's production of La fille du régiment was carried by Natalie Dessay's extraordinary dynamism on stage; their Don Pasquale really needed a Natalie Dessay.
I rather cynically wonder if the ROH has programmed this Don Pasquale, with a small and star-unstudded cast, as a bums-on-seats way of preparing for next month's government funding cuts. The other opera they're playing at the moment is Cosi fan Tutte, another small-scale work that's guaranteed to fill the house, in another classic Jonathan Miller production that was said to be the cheapest for years when it came out in 2001.