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Don Pasquale in Hollywood

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Jul 10, 2015 - 2:43:04 PM in reviews_2015

L to R: Don Pasquale (Burak Bilgili) and Dr. Malatesta (Alexy Lavrov) in Cincinnati Opera's "Don Pasquale"
Cincinnati Opera uncorked a bit of bubbly, Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale,” for the third presentation of its 2015 summer season Thursday night at Music Hall.

The opera was cleverly updated to 1950s Hollywood, the old bachelor Don Pasquale becoming “Don Pasquale, Sovereign of the Silver Screen,” an aging film star from the silent movie era.

Displeased that his nephew Ernesto has refused an arranged marriage, Pasquale decides to disinherit him and to get married and start a family himself. To assist him in finding a bride, he calls upon his friend Dr. Malatesta.

Malatesta meanwhile has agreed to help Ernesto, who wishes to marry the starlet Norina instead of his uncle’s choice. The plot thickens when Malatesta introduces Norina to Pasquale, passing her off as his sister Sofronia, who, he alleges, is in love with Pasquale and wishes to marry him. Pasquale is hooked and they are united in a fake ceremony.

Instantly, Norina/Sofronia becomes a shrew, plaguing Pasquale with a bad temper and outrageous expenses. Needless to say, when the plot is revealed, Pasquale is happy to opt out of the marriage and let Ernesto marry Norina, inheritance and all.

All this is captured in one of the most delightful bel canto operas ever. And the updating, with production elements by Arizona Opera Scenic and Costume Shop, worked. The story was woven together with excerpts from actor Pasquale’s films, newspaper excerpts, etc. The set was conceived as a frame of film with the action unfolding on it. Conductor Richard Buckley led a lively accompaniment by members of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in the pit.

To emphasize his age and his connection to black and white movies, bass Burak Bilgili as Pasquale was dressed in black and white and wore white makeup (he was covered in bills at one point to emphasize Norina’s expenses). Conversely, Gutiérrez as the shrewish wife wore a bright red dress and had a flaming hairdo.

Singing Ernesto in his Cincinnati Opera debut was tenor Ji-Min Park, whose voice was of sterling color and just the right weight. Norina was soprano Eglise Gutiérrez, whose voice displayed nimble athleticism (while not quite having the fullness this reviewer would have liked). Bass Bilgili fit his role perfectly as Pasquale, delivering his occasional patter songs with great skill. Baritone Alexy Lavrov, also in his Cincinnati Opera debut, was similarly well cast as the wily Malatesta. Baritone Paul Scholten made a fine Notary.

Scenes were beautifully done, never more so than in act I when Norina (Gutiérrez,) takes a bubble bath and reads from a romantic script, at the same time asserting her own prowess in the game of love (So anch'io la virtù magica). Park as Ernesto was convincingly suicidal at the beginning of act II where Ernesto bemoans his fate and concludes he will have to “seek a distant land” in the aria, Cerceró lontana terra -- doubly touching with its disconsolate trumpet solo.

With stage direction by Chuck Hudson, the acting was hilarious, with everything from silly walks to the fake notary flipping his sleeves, to Pasquale shouting through a megaphone. Members of the chorus in act III were all dressed as well known Hollywood stars, including Marilyn Monroe, Groucho Marx, Carmen Miranda, Betty Hutton (as Annie Oakley), etc. Lavrov as Malatesta wore a Dracula cape, behind which Ernesto hid.

While one of the great comic operas, “Don Pasquale” has its serious moments, as when Norina as Pasquale’s wife slaps him when he objects to her domineering attitude and her luxurious ways (he wears a bandage over his cheek later in the opera). Ernesto’s duet with Norina in act III (“Tornami a dir che m’ami”) with Pasquale watching was a highlight, as was Pasquale’s lively duet with Malatesta as they eavesdrop on the lovers and the plot is finally revealed.

The opera repeats at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Music Hall. Tickets at (513) 241-2742 and online at www.cincinnatiopera.org