‘Don Pasquale’ enjoyable despite some early jitters

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By Melissa Riedel-Espinoza



Review > Next performance is Friday at the Santa Fe Opera

Gaetano Donizetti’s Opera Buffa, “Don Pasquale,” was presented to an appreciative audience on opening night Saturday. Despite having a lead with only two days to prepare for her role, and a few first-night hiccups, this cast gives a performance that demonstrates the reasons this opera has enjoyed popularity since its premiere in 1843. The story of separated lovers and an old uncle with all of the money and control doesn’t feel formulaic; instead, it is entertaining and it quickly becomes obvious why this opera is considered such a high point for this form.

From beginning to end, conductor Corrado Rovaris shows such feeling for this music that his conducting is a pleasure to watch, and he is immersed in his job, creating a lush sound and directing an orchestra that has almost perfect dynamic control. At times, it slightly overwhelms the voices onstage, but this is never distracting or terribly unpleasant.

The star of this opera is, undeniably, Andrew Shore’s Don Pasquale. His characterization of Don Pasquale is perfect, down to touches such as jaw movements that look remarkably like an older gentleman having denture issues, and primping and preening that are well done without being corny or cloying.

Zachary Nelson, as Dr. Malatesta, has an easy, fluid instrument and comic timing that pairs well with his fellow cast members. It seems that he is just being himself, regardless of the difficult music and staging he is putting together, and his ease is captivating. Alek Shrader, as the young tenor Ernesto, adeptly portrays the highly emotional nephew. His pouting and stomping are effective, although they do leave one wondering how he attracted the feisty Norina. He has a lovely young-sounding tenor voice, which is a perfect fit for this role.

At the beginning of this evening, Charles MacKay announced that the role of Norina, originally to be sung by Laura Tatulescu, would be covered by second-year apprentice Shelley Jackson. 

Ms. Jackson did an admirable job. Although the staging for her character seems a little stiff at times, her voice is lovely and she puts a lot of emotion into her characterization. This role is a solid fit for Ms. Jackson, and she is to be applauded for stepping in at the last minute, a difficult thing to do.

The chorus of apprentices is stellar. They not only have gorgeous voices, but their movements are very tight and well choreographed. They add a great deal to the evening’s entertainment. In addition, the sets are creative and clever, especially the representation of Don Pasquale’s upheaval in the third act. There is not a visual piece out of place.

The Santa Fe Opera hasn’t performed Don Pasquale since 1983, but that can’t be because anything in this opera is lacking. It’s appropriate for audiences of all ages, and holds the attention of seasoned operagoers and novices alike for the entire two and a half hours of its duration. 

Watching this many performers enjoy themselves on stage and in the orchestra pit is a delightful experience!