Opera Orlando opened its 2016-17 season in the Alexis & Jim Pugh Theater at the Dr. Phillips Center on Nov. 18 with Gaetano Donizetti’s opera buffa classic “Don Pasquale.” The plot is simple and sparkles with fun. At this time of year such fare seems very fitting, following the turmoil of elections with everything except hand-to-hand fighting! If this be lagniappe, make the most of it – or make it anything you want.
The cast included: Metropolitan Opera star and bass baritone Peter Strummer playing Don Pasquale; baritone Dennis Jesse playing Dr. Malatesta; tenor David Margulis as Ernesto; soprano Bridgette Gan playing as Norina; and Chuck Kohlfeldt as Notar. The cast was strongly and well supported by Maestro Michael Sakir, who guest conducted the Orlando Philharmonic and Opera Orlando Chorus.
The plot concerns an old man (Don Pasquale) who wishes to marry a younger women (Norina). Ernesto, who is Pasquale’s nephew, has the hots for the same dame, and he is penniless, to make matters worse. Dr. Malatesta is a factotum for Pasquale. And to raise eyebrows a little further, Norina is Malatesta’s sister! Is that enough of a mess for you?
The raison d'être of the day is Donezetti’s glorious bel canto (beautiful singing) music and the excellent quality of soprano Gan, bass baritone Strummer, baritone Jesse, and tenor Margulis –and sing beautifully, they did!
As a tenor in Europe and North America who sang hundreds of performances in a long career, I might pass on to tenor David Margulis who was singing despite indisposition announced from the stage: I found it preferable to sing and let the chips fall where they may. My worst might not be so bad after all – and unless a doctor has been called, it makes for a more successful career.
The duet between the Don and Malatesta had to be repeated for the audience’s enjoyment.
Appropriate silliness on the stage kept things in a frolicsome mood thanks to Vincent Connor, general director of the Opera Orlando, and his imaginative stage direction.
To paraphrase General Douglas MacArthur for the moral of the story: Old “lovers” never die, they just fade away! And as you might have guessed, Ernesto wins Norina, and she gets him. All are happy: an afternoon of lovely singing – fine performances all around – a grand opening event!
Next, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” on Dec. 18. A perfect present for the joy and beauty of the Christmas season. See you there!