REVIEW: Don Pasquale at Theatre Royal
OPERAS are not museum pieces. So… when I see that the first act of Don Pasquale has moved from the Don’s and Norina’s 1843 sitting rooms to the waiting room of Dr Malatesta, plastic surgeon to the stars, I’m enthralled. Director Orpha Phelan, who spent her childhood in Waterford and attended the Ursuline Convent, is right on the money with the location of an opera in a space where you can just smell change, pretence, disguise and vanity in the plastic ether. Along with cartons of Botox, implants, silicone and Viagra – to stiffen our hero’s resolve, no doubt!
Childless Don Pasquale is an aging don who tries to turn back the years by finding a young bride, who will birth an heir to his fortune. He disinherits his nephew and only heir Ernesto because Ernesto loves, and plans to marry, Norina – a woman unknown to Pasquale. Thankfully, we have Dr Malatesta to manipulate matters in an opera buffa that manufacture the most hilarious of comic situations right from the off.
‘There’s a buzz in the theatre all night that never stops’
Donizetti’s sparkling score and the libretto’s hilarious plots and sub-plots hardly leaves us time to dwell on the shenanigan’s afoot. The use of side stage supertitles to translate the Italian plotline is a first for me in the Theatre Royal and a massive aid to following the story. Voices are a delight and always serves the character and drama of the moment rather than the voice itself and the poignancy of frustrated and disappointed young love really rings true in the duets of the young lovers.
Graeme Danby’s Pasquale – the elderly bachelor with the towering bass – is magnificent and dominates the plotline as he is not only the driver of the opera but also the butt of all jokes. There’s always a kindness beneath the bluster and it’s hard not to warm to his smiles at the thought of getting married, even at his age. However, his domineering male gets his comeuppance when he jumps into, what he believes, is a marriage with soprano Kelli-Ann Masterson’s feisty and quick-witted Norina, who sets about spending all his money and treating him like her plaything. Kelli-Ann’s performance is a comic delight and a musical treat. Ben McAteer’s Dr Malatesta is a conniving, conspiratorial, con man who manipulates the Don and – after a series of hoops and jumps – convinces the old fool that he is better off as a bachelor and his big patter duet with Danby is an acrobatic, verbal, showstopper. Tenor Rhodri Prys Jones is the sympathetic, frustrated lover Ernesto – reduced to delivery boy of cartons of shoes, tops, bottoms, furs and dresses – whose arias always carry the ring of truth. Mezzo Soprano Leanne Fitzgerald is the comic and coquettish Notary who is more interested in love than law. Conductor Teresa Riveiro Bohm drives the music on for all its worth.
There’s a buzz in the theatre all night that never stops. All three floors are full and the audience engages and sometimes comments on the hilarious capers and constant changes that the plotline throws up. Acting is a delight and the players play the opera for all its worth. A rearranging of waiting room seats to mimic a plane, complete with food trolley, is a gem of stage invention as is Pasquale’s devotion to the only piece of furniture that Norina leaves him with – his favourite armchair.
Curtain calls continue long after the finale for Irish National Opera’s Don Pasquale and the punters carry home the magic that opera can bring in what was a barnstorming night of theatre on the Mall.