Cincinnati Opera's Don Pasquale was a delight and, so far, the season’s best overall production. Burak Bilgili’s Pasquale and Alexey Lavrov’s Malatesta share the honors for outstanding performances and the entire enchilada (as Peter Schickele would say) was directed by Chuck Hudson, with production elements and costumes built by Arizona Opera.
The setting is 1950s Hollywood and Don Pasquale is a silent film star trying to make a comeback by marrying a starlet. We get Don’s backstory through a series of black-and-white film clips of his biggest hits, press notices and his subsequent failures in talkies and as a director. They’re brilliantly effective and the opening segments are in synch with the overture.
Pasquale’s black-and-white environment takes on color as he decides to seek a bride, and by Act II, the only gray spot is Pasquale himself.
Burak Bilgili brought crisp articulation and robust presence to the aging Pasquale. He’s a gifted comic and he handled the physical demands (and there were plenty) moving gracefully across the stage. His foil Malatesta was Polish baritone Alexey Lavrov; the phrase "silky elegance" is the best descriptor of his voice. Since he’s scheduled to sing this role at the Met, it doesn’t look like he has to worry about future gigs, but if he ever does, he’s got a great future as Dracula — he can handle a cape with the best of them.
Tenor Ji-Min Park sang Ernesto with clarity and sweetness, especially “Com’e Gentil” but the stage business covered up a lot of the loveliest passages. Eglise Gutierrez broke her ankle earlier in the week, but she navigated the stage in such a way that unless you saw her wearing a slightly different slipper, you wouldn’t suspect anything was amiss. But something was because she was a restrained Norina and I frequently couldn’t hear her. She might have been in a lot of pain and backstage, she had on a boot, so I’m more than willing to give her a break. One hopes she'll notch it up by Saturday.
Richard Buckley led a lively reading of this delightful score. Hudson’s staging is based on his studies with Marcel Marceau and the best example of that was the staging “Com’e Gentil.” It was hilarious (the long arm reaching for Pasquale’s keys) but it upstaged the aria. Oh well. The audience loved it. The actors proved to be deft comedians, especially Park, whose wonky Ernesto can’t do anything right. Of course the revenge duet got an encore.
Fun, fun, fun. And with a ‘50s setting, there might have been a T Bird lurking backstage.
DON PASQUALE continues Saturday. For info here.