Don Pasquale – Opera Australia Delights Melbourne in Spring

Don Pasquale

Conal Coad as Don Pasquale, Opera Australia’s Don Pasquale Melbourne 2014, photo by Jeff Busby

The opening night at the Arts Centre Melbourne for the production of Don Pasquale composed by Italian maestro Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848), proved why today this confection is considered a little ‘gem’

Presented by Opera Australia (OA), it was light, lovely and luscious, like the lemon sorbet being served free at intermission.

Regular opening night patrons responded with enthusiastic acclamation for the well-chosen experienced energised and enthusiastic performers, the production team, Australian Opera Chorus and Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra. Under the baton of Guillaume Tourniaire the musicians all truly relished the score.

Set in one of the most romantic cities in the world, this is a place where in the past poets, philosophers, writers and artists sought to change the world or “make a motza. This production is a cross-cultural exchange as a romantic idyll of the ancients meets a post World War II ‘Roman Holiday’, tracing the footsteps of a royal princess seeking to find a Rome of her own.

The setting is delightfully designed; it all looks fresh and ravishing. Currently inspiring fashion trends for those who didn’t live during that time, 50’s fashion, folly and fun seem to be at the centre of contemporary creative impetus and so designer Richard Roberts has had a field day.

Loved the snazzy suits, vests and ties and the Tiffany blue Vespa, which made me want to hop on board and go for a spin myself.

Norina & Ernesto

Rachelle Durkin and John Longmuir, Opera Australia’s Don Pasquale Melbourne 2014, photo by Jeff Busby

Just like Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck who starred in Roman Holiday (1953), this new generation enjoy the ideas associated with riding motor scooters and drinking frothy cups of coffee at a period-style café on the Via Condotti, while throwing copious amounts of coins in the Trevi fountain.

They are all hoping their wishes in life will come true too. Directed by Roger Hodgman and with lighting by Matt Scott, the girls and the guys wear their summery gelato style pastel colours and crisp white against a backdrop of warm terracotta and soft gentle greens gloriously, seducing our senses.

The performers take on the feel of engaging and delightful figures from the Italian commedia del arteDon Pasquale styled on Punchinello, a clown who emerged out of the 17th century to become a stock character in Neapolitan puppetry during the eighteenth and nineteenth.

Donizetti is best known for his opera buffa, or comedic operas during his lifetime and his Don Pasquale is meant to be someone easily manipulated with hilarious results.

While superb soprano Rachelle Durkin despite wearing peddle-pushers may not really channel the gamin style of a chic Audrey Hepburn as Norina, her lyrical excellence, voice of great clarity and infectious sense of fun were very defining for the show and audience, and they loved her for it.

In the current presentation happening for spring in Melbourne bass singer Conal Coad stars in the title role of Don Pasquale.

He’s a roguish old gentleman who wants another chance at life, including marrying a girl decades younger than himself to beget an heir.

Coad gives a sense of gravitas; to a man of whom others might say ‘there’s no fool like an old fool.

For me while delightful, he was in today’s climate just a little too ‘old school’ over the top at times.

Norina & Pasquale

Conal Coad and Rachelle Durkin, Opera Australia’s Don Pasquale Melbourne 2014, photo by Jeff Busby

Donizetti was a master of melody and Don Pasquale completed in 1843, was his consummate comedic piece, an opera buffa in the best Italian tradition.

It is reported that in his day Donizetti liked nothing better than people leaving his performances humming his memorable tunes.

When Don Pasquale premiered in January 1843 at Theatre-Italian in Vienna, as expected, he gained a spectacular success.

The eternal city Rome has always been a precinct of power and influence, with many people seeking to explore its highways and byways. They are lured on by appealing crumbling imagery and its reputation for being the source of great original design and style.

Curmudgeon Don Pasquale living in his villa at Rome all alone is seeking simpler and happier times gone and decides he needs a companion in life. He wants to punish his nephew as he believes he doesn’t respect his advice and if he marries will ‘kill two birds with one stone’.

Pasquale and Malesta

Conal Coad and Samuel Dundas, Opera Australia’s Don Pasquale Melbourne 2014, photo by Jeff Busby

Recognizing Don Pasquale’s foolishness, his friend Dr Malatesta decides to teach him a lesson.

Pasquale & Norina

Conal Coad and Rachelle Durkin, Opera Australia’s Don Pasquale Melbourne 2014, photo by Jeff Busby

He does a deal with his friend Dr Malatesta to marry his beautiful young sister so that he will be able to ‘beget’ a new heir, cheating his nephew Ernesto out of his fortune.

Dr Malatesta doesn’t approve of Pasquale’s actions and so convinces him to marry his sister Sophronia (really ensconced in a convent) to marry him.

Malatesta sings an aria describing the suitable bride, one who is as “beautiful like an angel”, that he has found for him.

He urges Norina however, the love of Ernesto’s life,  to enact a a mock marriage with the old miser impersonating his sister so that she can set about making Pasquale’s life the sort of hell on earth he deserves. And if they succeed they can all have a laugh at his expense.

To achieve his aim with the ruse, Malatesta informs Ernesto just in case he blunders into the scene and spoils all the fun.

Samuel Dundas has just the right amount of swagger to convince us as Dr Malatesta and Don Pasquale he should marry the woman he puts forward.

Don Pasquale Quartet

John Longmuir, Rachelle Durkin, Conal Coad and Samuel Dundas, Opening Night, Opera Australia’s Don Pasquale Melbourne 2014, photo by Jeff Busby

The tenor John Longmuir as Ernesto who is in love with Norina, with his simply splendid Neapolitan style of voice, sent my memories plunging back to the 50’s and the glory days of the late great Mario Lanza. He had just the right touch and sense of comic timing too and his voice was lyrically luscious.

Pasquale’s much like those ancients who developed villa culture in their quest for enjoying the pleasures of country life.

Onstage

Set Design, Opera Australia’s Don Pasquale Melbourne 2014, photo by Jeff Busby

Inside his ‘classic’ Italian villa in the city his new wife sets about redecorating it with up to date 50’s accessories, running up huge bills with her purchases.

The aim is for him to give into age and retire gracefully, allowing Ernesto to inherit all he has and see them secure in life.

Don Pasquale is frivolous, fabulous and about having fun laughing at how ridiculous we all can be. It is presented as great to look at glorious entertainment with gorgeous singing and grand orchestral playing.

It’s not meant to be serious or to move the world, but to remind us all of our frailty.

Hard to beat really!

Pasquale Street Scene

Set design Opera Australia’s Don Pasquale Melbourne 2014, photo by Jeff Busby

Keeping with that theme a good Prosecco and night out at an Italian bistro afterwards goes down very well.

Cheers!

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014.

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