We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Deanna Breiwick, Tobias Greenhalgh, Jeongcheol Cha
What fun we had at Juilliard last night where Donizetti's comic masterpiece Don Pasquale was presented by artists from Juilliard Opera and Juilliard Orchestra.  The story is right out of the commedia dell'arte tradition--a foolish old man wants to marry and gets his comeuppance.  In most productions, we feel great sympathy for the disinherited nephew Ernesto who is so in love with the poor  Norina that he refuses to marry the rich bride his uncle favors, thereby provoking the uncle to seek a bride and produce an heir.

But, in this case, Jeongcheol Cha created such a sympathetic character that our sympathies shifted toward him and less toward the slacker nephew, portrayed by Javier Abreu, a rather unprepossessing fellow who appeared unworthy of the beautiful and spunky Norina, performed by Deanna Breiwick.  The crafty Doctor Malatesta, portrayed by the too young and too handsome Tobias Greenhalgh, initiates a plan to show Don Pasquale how awful marriage is by presenting Norina as his convent-raised sister Sofronia, the perfect wife.  Naturally as soon as the fake marriage contract is signed, Norina proceeds to go through the Don's fortune and to demolish his self-esteem with her wanton ways.  There was a very moving moment when Norina realized how she has injured her future father-in-law; remorse was written all over Ms. Breiwick's lovely face.

Mr. Cha's sturdy bass-baritone served him well in the bel canto style; Mr. Greenhalgh who, in spite of his matinee idol looks and youth, created a dashing image of a doctor who manages to pull off the stunt with panache; his baritone was most pleasant to the ear.  Ms. Breiwick, whose gorgeous golden locks were hidden under a dowdy brown wig, used her lustrous soprano and superior technique to illuminate the coloratura passages with distinction.  Just listen to that liquid silver trill!  Mr. Abreu has a sweet but small tenor and failed to enlist our sympathies for his character.

In a bit of luxury casting, some of Juilliard's finest singers composed the ensemble.  In Swinging Sixties wigs and costumes we had fun trying to recognize them.

The conductor Stephen Lord and the director James Robinson were imported from St. Louis; we were not impressed.  Donizetti's music must sparkle like a diamond and what we heard sounded more like a rhinestone.  Not bad, just a bit lackluster.  The Juilliard Orchestra has sounded better on other occasions.

As far as the direction goes, we saw no reason to place the story in the 1960's, a decade no more relevant to our lives today than the time period in which Donizetti and librettist Giovanni Ruffini placed the action.  This anachronism left us in a disjointed frame of mind when horses and coaches were mentioned.  We were not outraged as we are when serious classics are trashed, just mildly irritated.  There should be a point and there isn't one.  To make matters worse, there were even more contemporary touches like the personal trainer and the green juice drink that didn't belong to the 60's at all.  That being said, these funny bits were....funny.

Set designer Shoko Kambara created a beautiful set for the Don's home with overstuffed furniture and burnished wooden walls that made us think we were going to see an epoch-valid production.  When Norina has the home redecorated, everything appeared to be of the art deco period, another anachronism.

Costumes by Amanda Seymour were colorful and apropos the period.  Still, we were left wondering why Norina, appearing as the modest Sofronia in a black dress, would be wearing bright shiny red stilettos.  In sum, this was a production in which one would do well to forget dramatic logic and just listen to the delightful young artists as they embark on what promises to be some very illustrious careers on the opera stage.

(c) meche kroop

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