Opera Reviews
14 August 2020
Untitled Document

Enormous fun

by Catriona Graham
Donizetti: Don Pasquale
Scottish Opera
Edinburgh Festival Theatre
February 2014

Photo: K.K. DundasThe back story. Often a problem in operas, which focus on dénouements of situations which have been developing for some time. Renaud Doucet, directing Don Pasquale for Scottish Opera, solves the problem by turning the pages of a 1965 Fotoromanze during the overture. Thus, we learn of Ernesto’s relationship with Norina despite the  disapproval of his uncle, Don Pasquale, whose love of and allergy to cats explains both the décor and the attendance of the doctor.

Determined to thwart his disobedient nephew, he eagerly takes up Dr Malatesta’s offer of a bride – his ‘sister Sofronia’. Only, Malatesta (Nicholas Lester) is best buddy of Ernesto (Aldo Di Toro), so all is not as it seems.

Alfonso Antoniozzi is a dishevelled Pasquale scruffing around in singlet and dressing-gown, but scrubs up well in a light blue suit and two-tone shoes to meet his bride-to-be. Ernesto arrives in a loud shirt striped in shades of orange. Norina (Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson), variously wears purple pedal-pushers, a vivid green dress trimmed with white fur, and a leopard-print; one is not surprised that the chorus-members wear sunglasses.

Even Ernesto is initially taken in by Malatesta’s plot. As he ties his suitcase onto his push-bike, ready to leave home, Rome, Europe, he bears a remarkable resemblance to the late Ronnie Barker – it must be the heavy-framed specs.

Designer André Barbe differentiates between the internal reception area of Pasquale’s pensione and the external terrace with heavily-laden washing-lines of bed- and table-linen - fag-smoking Maid (Sandra Haxton) adds comic value as she laboriously hoists the washing by a hawser-like rope.

The silky voice of Jenkins-Róbertsson keeps Norina /Sofronia on the right side of good humour and malice-free. Even at her ‘post-marital’ bossiest, there is no edge of harshness, rather a down-to-earth matter-of-factness that Pasquale must learn his lesson. Pasquale may lament that he is humiliated and made a fool of, but the pathos in Antoniozzi’s delicate singing wins our sympathy.

The pensione may be run-down, but it is busy enough with guests arriving and departing in the middle of scenes in the argumentative meaning of that word. The staff of doddery Porter (Andy Fraser), Cook (Steven Faughey) and Maid eavesdrop shamelessly on developments. By the time that Norina has the make-over in train, the stage is a heaving mass of bell-boys, delivery men and a mincing hairdresser, in the middle of which a bemused Pasquale is as good as helpless. The cats are banished, replaced by Sixties chairs and op-art.

Among the nice touches in this production are Ernesto serenading Norina off-stage then pushing on his bike with record-player, and Guy Simard lights the courtyard so that dusk falls and windows are illuminated. The singing and acting of principals and chorus is so un-stagey, that we feel we are eavesdropping in the pensione. The orchestra, under Francesco Corti, keeps Donzetti’s music light.

Finally, however, Pasquale is reconciled to those who tricked him and is rewarded by Norina with a papillon dog – but how long till the dander triggers his allergy?

Text © Catriona Graham
Photo K.K. Dundas
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