|The cast of DIVAria Productions' Don Pasquale|
Yes, we know that The Metropolitan Opera is trashing its beloved productions and losing subscribers en masse. Yes, we know that the reborn New York City Opera is floundering due to poor artistic choices and inadequate marketing. Yes, we know that DiCapo Opera went under. But, big but here, New York is replete with small companies that are redefining opera for new audiences with fresh ideas and presenting them in unexpected venues.
Last night we attended a production of Donizetti's 1843 opera buffa Don Pasquale that had excellent musical values and high spirits to spare, delighting the youthful audience and this reviewer. Musical Director Fabio Bezuti performed at the piano in a reduced score which included two violins and a cello. The small group captured all of Donizetti's effervescence right from the overture.
Mr. Diaz' direction went a long way toward making up for the lack of titles. With our minimal Italian vocabulary and the dramatic skills of the cast, we knew exactly what was happening. Additionally, there was a narrator invented by Mr. Diaz with dialogue written by himself and Andrew Bell. This was no ordinary narrator but the chief servant in Don Pasquale's home who gossiped about the crazy situation and filled in the points of the plot. This non-singing role was taken by Christen Mathern who did a swell job.
The singing was uniformly up to snuff. Arias, duets, trios and quartets all came off well. Voices were well balanced in every case.
In the title role we had Jorge Ocasio whose resonant bass and fine comic timing excelled. His interpretation of the role was short on "nasty" and "pathetic", rather evoking sympathy for this poor old man who wants to recapture his youth by marrying a young woman. In an invented scene, choreographer Jody Oberfelder had him dancing in fantasy with a quartet of young women in poodle skirts, emphasizing the memories an old man would have of his youth. His performance was the very embodiment of Pantalone.
As Norina, Ashley Bell sang with bright coloratura. This is the third time we have reviewed her performances and remain impressed. In keeping with the commedia dell'arte origins of the libretto, the acting was over the top. In a plot to get around the "foolish old man" character, she is obliged to masquerade as Sofronia, a shy convent girl who changes into a hellion once the marriage contract is signed. Ms. Bell handled the transformation well with some help by costume changes. She was the embodiment of the wily Columbina.
The "Scapino" role of Dr. Malatesta was wonderfully sung and acted by baritone Jim Wright who conveyed chicanery to spare, and the "Pierrot" role of Ernesto, Don Pasquale's nephew, was well sung by tenor David Guzman. This scheming trio treated Don P. so badly that our sympathies were shifted toward the poor old man.
The original 19th c. librettist Giovanni Ruffini removed his name from the score, so distressed was he by Donizetti's dominance. But the story is a variation of a story dating back to 16th c. Italy and associated with carnevale. And so, in keeping with tradition, Mr. Diaz has interpreted the tale in his own fashion. That it spoke to our need to see ourselves in all of our clichéd glory was made evident by the abundant laughter and applause.
Aren't we all a bit foolish? a bit devious? a bit gullible?
(c) meche kroop