|Melanie Spector, Gabe Reitemeier, Yeseul Choi, Laura Alley, Maestro Steven Crawford, Joshua DeVane, YoungKwan Yoo, Nam Won Huh, and Matthew Greenberg|
Seeing and hearing young artists onstage and forgetting that they are "young artists" is a special treat we experience when attending one of Prelude to Performance's productions. Given a professional production and the right coaching the young artists who have completed this program are uniformly excellent in both musical and dramatic values. Happily, the productions are generally traditional, just the way we like them.
In the case of Donizetti's Don Pasquale, director Laura Alley created a comic drama with a successful overall arc; each individual scene was as coherent as a well written phrase of music. There was undeniable rhythm to the performance, and loads of laughs. Replete with duets and a stunning quartet, the score invites such effective direction.
We noticed a theme to this season's productions. Both of the eponymous heroes are older men who lust after younger women. Both stories involve their humiliation and reformation. Both stories make them likeable by the time the curtain falls. This isn't just in the libretto but in the music and the dramatic skills of the singer portraying them. In the Falstaff we just reviewed, José Maldonado made the Fat Knight seem loveable at the end, and last night, Joshua DeVane's remarkable performance made us care about poor Don Pasquale.
This theme dates back to commedia dell'arte in which the foolish old man was a stock character. We can't help thinking that we never lose our desire for love and "dirty old men" need love too.
Another stock character is the wily doctor and YoungKwan Yoo was a fine choice for the role of Dr. Malatesta as he plans some trickery to get Don Pasquale to give up on wanting a wife and to let Ernesto marry his beloved Norina.
Of course, the audience is rooting for the success of the young lovers and ready to forgive the three conspirators for their misdeeds. Yeseul Choi made a splendid Norina. We loved the scene in which Dr. Malatesta coaches her on how to act modest and shy like the cloistered sister whom he is passing her off as.
Another favorite moment is the one in which Norina slaps Pasquale and realizes she has gone too far. One could readily read the shame on Ms. Choi's face and understand so much of her character. Sometimes we do shameful things in pursuit of our goals-- so we get it.
Ms. Choi's musicality was in evidence throughout but really dazzled us in the final scene in which Donizetti provided the soprano with plenty of vocal fireworks, all excellently sung.
NamWon Huh made a very convincing Ernesto, basically a good fellow and loyal to his beloved, but rather entitled. He created a believable character and sang well in the lower and middle register, evincing a lovely messa di voce. To bring his performance up to a "10", he will have to learn to float his top notes. Nothing mars an otherwise fine performance than a tenor who thinks he must push out the top notes at top volume. Float 'em baby, float 'em!
Gabe Reitemeier created a very funny bit as the notary. Pasquale's servants were performed by Melanie Spector and Matthew Greenberg.
Maestro Steven Crawford led a spirited reading of the tuneful score. From the melodic cello solo in the overture, we knew we were in good hands. There was a brief moment in the prelude to Act II when the strings had some intonation problems but we are sure it had to do with the heat and humidity since we ourselves felt a bit unstrung.
As usual, Charles R. Caine's costumes were perfect, especially the red velvet gown worn by Ms. Choi as she was leaving for the theater. Steven Horak's excellent wig and costume design allowed us to see the handsome young Mr. DeVane transformed into an elderly man,. Of course, Mr. DeVane's acting sealed the deal. It was very humorous to watch him trying to pick up a barbell with arthritic knees and spine, but to witness how he perked up when Dr. Malatesta told him a wife had been found.
We ourself perked up from our heat-driven lethargy and found ourself dancing and humming on the way home.
(c) meche kroop