An evening of rollicking fun at Sarasota Opera's season opener.
As welcome as the cooler, drier breezes of fall, Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” arrived on the stage of the Sarasota Opera House Friday night for its first visit.
Greeted by a near-capacity house, this new production is a wonderful relief from the quadrennial cacophony of speeches and rallies.
The story is an old one: Don Pasquale, a rich older bachelor, disinherits his nephew to take a young bride, is thwarted by a plot to marry what he believes to be a sweet young thing from a convent, only to be duped into thinking that she is the exact opposite, a shrewish extravagant bully, turning Pasquale’s life upside down. Then, while reality is waiting to surface, more minor complications arise, in true Comedia dell’arte tradition. But of course, all ends well with happiness and forgiveness all around.
The opera, which premiered in Paris in 1843, is considered the last of the great buffo operas. It is a treasure trove of melody with all the champagne bubbles of a Rossini opera as well as Donizetti’s lilting waltz tunes, setting the stage for Offenbach’s later comic operas.
Written for four of the great singers of that time, “Don Pasquale” has big vocal demands in every role — and Sarasota Opera’s singers certainly rose to the challenge. Marco Nistico was singing his first Pasquale, and even though he lacked a bit of basso heft in his hearty baritone, he was completely convincing as the old codger.
As Ernesto, Hak Soo Kim’s tenor is both darker and fuller than in his earlier appearances here and was a delight to hear, especially the offstage serenade with harp that opens the final scene. Baritone Gideon Dabi was big of voice and gesture as Dr. Malatesta — the engineer of the plot to dupe Pasquale — in his beautifully sung aria and duets with Norina and Pasquale. Both Dabi and Nistico were outstanding in the machine-gun patter of their Act 3 duet, which received a welcome encore — cleverly added to the staging.
Angela Mortellaro as Norina virtually dominated every scene she was in, from her opening scene and aria, beautifully sung with a lovely solid and secure sound and coloratura and high notes to burn, to the duets with Malatesta and Pasquale, and all the ensembles, once again showing the excellence of the singers of Sarasota Opera.
All the stage goings on were skillfully planned and staged by Stephanie Sundine, and her singing actors (or acting singers) were completely convincing, especially Nistico — a slim man padded to be portly.
The Sarasota Orchestra was in the pit and played flawlessly for the knowledgable conducting of Victor DeRenzi. Especially outstanding were the solos of Natalie Helm, cello, Michael Dobrinksi, trumpet, and harpist Shelly Du. No credit was listed for the design of the excellent set, which was lighted by Ken Yunker with his usual flair, enhancing the fine period costumes of Howard Tsvi Kaplan and Audrey Bernardin’s wigs and makeup.
Excellent subtitles were provided by Words for Music, and the final line of the opera, “Old men who marry are not very smart,” elicited laughter from the audience, which had indeed experienced an evening of rollicking and roaring fun.
The presentation and singing of Opera Buffa are indeed tough animals to tame, since there is such a fine line between overacting, oversinging, and “just right,” but this production of “Don Pasquale” by the Sarasota Opera comes pretty darn close — as close as you’re going to see for a long time. And “Pasquale” is here until Nov. 13.