Don Pasquale
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In Review > North America

Don Pasquale

SAN FRANCISCO
Merola Opera Program
8/6/15

THE MEROLA OPERA PROGRAM's summer production of Don Pasquale at the Cowell Theater (seen Aug. 6) was an enjoyable evening of opera buffa. Despite a rather disjointed staging, the production afforded the young singers of the annual summer academy a well-chosen opportunity to demonstrate their affinity for the bel canto repertory.

Donizetti’s three-act comedy was performed in two halves, with a single intermission between Acts II and III. Nic Muni’s frenetic production moved the action (or at least part of it) from the early nineteenth century to an Italian film set reminiscent of the height of the Cinecittá era. The concept worked best in the scene introducing the opera’s resourceful heroine, Norina (Amina Edris), who made her first appearance as a janitress, mopping the floor in a backstage area and eavesdropping as a director and his leading lady (uncredited, drawn from the chorus) engaged in a heated argument. When the actress hurled her script to the floor and stomped out, Norina picked it up and sang “So anch’io la virtù magica,” as if she were trying on the role — an apt interpretation for a practical-minded young woman about to impersonate a bride in the gulling of the opera’s title character.

Elsewhere, Muni and his designers — Donald Eastman (sets), Sarah Tundermann (lighting), Ulises Alcala (costumes), and Marcelo Donari (hair, wigs, makeup) — couldn’t make the elements cohere. Don Pasquale (James Ioelu), clad entirely in white like an aged film star, made his first appearance seated in a sterile cube that suggested a dentist’s office; listening to Doctor Malatesta (Alex DeSocio) describing Norina’s charms, the don shook with paroxysms of desire until the doctor shoved a large hypodermic needle into the old man’s neck. Ernesto (Seenchan Kwon), sporting a cobalt silk suit and shades, first appeared reclining on a chaise longue; Muni made him a kind of young Italian hipster who, despite his dashing look, never quite acquired a character.

The director’s concept grew increasingly vague as the production progressed; the “Sofronia” scene achieved its wonted comic mayhem, with Norina, in bridal white, squeaking and mincing, and Pasquale gliding through his patter capably. But the second half lost momentum as the director loaded the stage with lurid lighting cues and obscure symbols — medical devices, umbrellas, hooded chorus members in evening gowns — that upstaged the singers and left audience members scratching their heads.

The Merola singers met the demands of Donizetti’s high-spirited score in nearly every particular. Edris took top honors in the cast, boasting a lustrous, well-projected soprano that delivered the role with clarity and considerable verve. The New Zealand native is a fine singing actress — bright, vivacious, and specific in movement and gesture — and her Norina was both smart and irresistibly funny.  Kwon deployed his sturdy tenor intelligently as Ernesto despite some audible strain in the role’s upper reaches. Baritone Alex Desocio was a smooth voiced, articulate Malatesta, and bass-baritone James Ioelu sounded resonant and rhythmically secure in the title role. Tenor Alasdair Kent made the most of his brief role as a dandified Notary.

Holding it all together was conductor Warren Jones, who led a thirty-one-piece ensemble in a crisp, buoyant performance of Donizetti’s score. Ever attendant to coordination between stage and pit, Jones demonstrated admirable concern for the singers while drawing shapely playing from his musicians: the trumpet solo at the start of Act II, to cite just one example, was played with exemplary flair by principal William Harvey. —Georgia Rowe 

 

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