Monday, August 10, 2015

Don Pasquale at Merola Opera

Donizetti's 1843 Italian comic opera, Don Pasquale, was presented last week by the Merola Opera training program, in a production at Fort Mason's Cowell Theater that was visually striking, dramatically confusing, and musically pleasing. (Pictured above are James Ioelu as Don Pasquale and Alex DeSocio as Dr. Malatesta, production photos by Kristen Loken, curtain call photos by me.)

The musical score is a wonder, and though most of the singers and the orchestra under conductor Warren Jones above did a fine, lively job, they oversang and played too loudly for the small theater.

This was especially true of the young lovers, Soonchan Kwon as Ernesto and Amina Edris as Norina. When they scaled their voices down for the final arias and love duet, they both sounded perfectly lovely.

The biggest problem was the production by director Nic Muni, that involved a Cinecitta like movie studio with lots of bizarrely attired extras walking around trying to upstage the principal singers for much of the evening.

Whatever the overarching concept was supposed to be (i.e., is this all a screenplay by the young lover Ernesto?), it made no sense and intruded on the simple commedia dell'arte tale of an old, rich fool receiving his comeuppance from young lovers.

James Ioelu as Don Pasquale did his best in the title role, and sang quite well, but was directed to be a hypochondriac, germaphobe like Howard Hughes in his final years. That brought up the question why he would be interested in something as germ-filled as sex, and it also made the conspiring young people look more like sadists towards a mentally ill person than lovesick ingenues triumphing over a delusional relative.

My favorite performer was baritone Alex DeSocio above as the scheming Dr. Malatesta, seen variously in all-black and all-yellow costumes. He didn't oversing or overact, and was consequently one of the sturdiest voices of the evening, and funny besides.

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