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19th Century Catfishing with a Contemporary Twist.
It’s a timeless tale – a rich older single man is seduced by a young woman with her sights firmly focussed on his wallet. This story has a twist though and that, together with stunning and at times provocative staging, makes the Royal Opera House’s new production of Don Pasquale one that shouldn’t be missed. It’s 19th-century entertainment subtly contemporised. Set designs by Paolo Fantini and costumes by Agostino Cavalca put Damiano Michieletto’s production somewhere in 20th century Italy (I recognised my Dad’s old car on stage at the start!). Innovative video (rocafilm) and light (Alessandro Carletti) together with hints at millenial and influencer behaviour bring it right into the 21st Century. It sounds unlikely but works brilliantly thanks to a simple set, some excellent acting and characterisation by the whole quartet and, of course, an engaging storyline.
Despairing of his millennial styled nephew Ernesto (Ioan Hotea) who plans to marry the impoverished widow Norina (Olga Teretyatko making her Royal Opera House Debut), Don Pasquale, played with endearing charm by Bryn Terfel, decides to marry himself. He calls on Doctor Malatesta (Markus Werba), a family friend to help find him a bride. But, Malatesta is already scheming with Ernesto and Norina.
The ultimate influencer, Norina is persuaded to appear as Malatesta’s sister Sofronia, fresh out of the convent and dressed in what might have been Julie Andrew’s old outfit from the Sound of Music. But, even throughout her first meeting with Pasquale, it’s clear she’s an extraordinary talent, pouting provocatively under her veil and sidling up to Don Pasquale while she confesses to loving cooking, gardening and cleaning…
Don Pasquale is totally smitten – and looking forward to starting a new family with his bride to be. Malatesta quickly organises the marriage and Don Pasquale declares that Sofronia is in charge of his household. Within minutes, she starts a major refurbishment – out go the 1950s style bed, sofa and paintings to be replaced with contemporary Italian furnishings that wouldn’t look out of place in a modern penthouse in Milan. Dressed now in a stunning red sequin evening dress ‘Sofronia’ makes the most of her new position and flirts with everyone except her husband.
The end game though isn’t for ‘Sofrina’ to remain with Don Pasquale. Malatesta has other plans and explains to Ernesto and Norina that they need to make sure Don Pasquale wants a divorce. That involves him discovering ‘Sofrina’ texting to a secret lover and arranging to meet in the woods. Playing into Malatesta’s hand’s Don Pasquale asks for help to get rid of his wife…and Malatesta’s solution is to suggest to Sofrina that she will have to share her house with Norina, Ernesto’s bride to be. She flys into a rage and says she will leave if that happens…and of course, Don Pasquale then agrees to Ernesto’s marriage. Even when the subterfuge is revealed and ‘Sofrina’ is exposed as Norina herself, Don Pasquale is ultimately relieved and forgives them all.
A stunning and engaging production, Donizetti’s Opera is given a timeless quality here. As the lecherous ageing Don Pasquale, Bryn Terfel downs viagra, wears a corset under his shirt and dyes his hair in an attempt at ‘youthfulness’ yet stumbles around on stage struggling to sit on a low sofa, all the while singing impeccably. Olga Teretyatko as Norina is entirely convincing both in her characterisation of the role and vocally, making light work of ‘Quel guardo, il Cavaliere…’. While there were moments where she entirely dominated the stage, that seemed appropriate for her role. Ernesto, as played by Ioan Hotea, is at times passionate, at times a delicate snowflake of millennial youth though with a pure and mellifluous voice throughout. Markus Werba’s Dr Malatesta is sensitively played as an observer and puppet master who controls the futures of those dear to him. Taken at something of a pace, the orchestra played flawlessly under the baton of Italian conductor Evelino Pidò.
All in, a fabulously entertaining evening, with an intriguing and fast-moving plot enhanced by superb vocals and excellent characterisation. My only disappointment was the provocative but rather unsettling ending where Don Pasquale ended up in a wheelchair living in a nursing home. I’d still be happy to see it all over again and I’m looking forward to hearing more from the divine Olga Teretyatko.
14 18, 21, 24 and 30 October 2019 and 2 November at 7.45 pm 26 October at 12 noon
Tickets can be booked online from the Royal Opera House
Don Pasquale will be broadcast live to cinemas throughout the UK and further afield on Thursday 24 October at 7.45 pm with an encore screening on Sunday 27 October at 2 pm.
Don Pasquale will also be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Saturday 23 November 2019 at 6.30 pm. Please check BBC Radio 3’s Opera on 3 website for the latest schedules
Do take a look at our preview of this season’s productions at the Royal Opera House
Royal Opera House
London WC2E 9DD