OPERA NEWS - Don Pasquale
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In Review > North America

Don Pasquale

Cincinnati Opera

THE THIRD OFFERING of Cincinnati Opera’s ninety-fifth season was a lively staging of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, set by director Chuck Hudson in 1950s Hollywood, with the title character transformed into a silent film star intent on making a comeback. (The butler—an added silent character—was made up to look like Erich von Stroheim in Sunset Boulevard.) This updating, originally conceived for Arizona Opera, worked quite well on the whole, including the transformation of the third act chorus of gossiping servants into a chorus of gossiping guests (John Wayne, Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, Elvis Presley, and other celebrities of the period). 

The opening of the first scene was done in black and white, with color gradually emerging with the introduction of the idea of Don Pasquale’s marriage to a young starlet (Norina). This effect was strikingly realized by the production team: Peter Nolle (scenic designer), Kathleen Trott (costumes), Thomas C. Hase (lighting), Doug Provost (projections), and James Geier (hair and makeup). To cover scene changes, the audience was presented with simulated newsreel footage showing some of Don Pasquale’s disastrous attempts to revive his career. In addition to the Hollywood theme, the production also integrated several moments of hommage to Marcel Marceau, which were carried out with great skill by the cast. (In the final act, the recreation of the Pickpocket’s Nightmare was perhaps too well done, with laughter covering much of Ernesto’s serenade, which was being exquisitely sung.)

Burak Bilgili has been heard often in Cincinnati in recent seasons, and his Don Pasquale was an expert comic creation. His onstage timing was flawless, and he clearly relished playing the silent movie actor in the film clips as well. Vocally, things were more variable. Occasionally, he was covered by the orchestra, and in a few spots the music seemed a bit low for him. Such moments were few, though, and he provided much pleasure in the role.

As Norina, Eglise Gutiérrez displayed fleet coloratura and a distinct trill, along with an attractively dusky vocal coloration. However, at least on opening night, she seemed somewhat out of sorts vocally. The vibrato was prominent, and the voice seemed to thin out as it ascended. She was at her best in the final act, particularly in the duet with Ernesto.

Alexey Lavrov made his Cincinnati Opera debut as Dr. Malatesta, bringing a rich sound and a measure of elegance to Donizetti’s bel canto flourishes. Like the others, he is an adept comedian, deploying his Dracula-like cape to hilarious effect in the final scene. The great comic duet with Don Pasquale was encored to an enthusiastic reception. 

The standout of the evening was Ji-Min Park, making his U.S. debut as Ernesto. His is a bright, lyric voice, well projected and readily heard from any position on the stage. The timbre is appealing, and the top appears effortless, even in the cabaletta of his Act II aria. In addition, he is a gifted comic actor, truly funny in the Marceau-inspired pantomime that accompanied the orchestral introduction to his aria.

As the notary, Paul Scholten made the most of his moment on stage. As always, the Cincinnati Opera Chorus was a positive presence, clearly enjoying their celebrity impersonations while singing crisply. The orchestral playing was first-rate, featuring some sensitively shaped solos in the opening section of the overture, and sparkling throughout under the direction of Richard Buckley. Tempos were unfailingly well chosen, with plenty of forward momentum as well as a good deal of flexibility for the singers. —Joe Law 


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