KAREN RUTTER reviews for Weekendspecial.co.za
MOST MERRY COMIC OPERA
What an absolute, absolute delight this CTO and UCT Opera School production of Don Pasquale is. Fuelled by fresh energy and coloured with a cosmopolitan edge, there’s a joyful feel to the comic opera that is evidenced in the sets, in the design, and in the performances, both group and solo, in the pit and on the stage.
German director Claudia Blersch places her interpretation in bustling Naples, and uses the chorus to represent a quintessential southern Italian character from the commedia dell’arte canon – Pulcinella. Italian set and video designer Giulio Bernardi takes the Naples setting into a contemporary zone with a graffiti-sprayed backdrop, a classic Fiat 500 and video imagery depicting everyday street scenes (complete with ever-present Neapolitan garbage cans). And South African costume designer Maritha Visagie has fun blending the present with the past, dressing the lead characters in stylishly modern smart-casual wear while swathing the chorus in Pulcinella’s distinctive baggy white outfit, cinched with a belt and topped by a hat and mask.
It all fuses into a cohesive, stylish and fun production – which is kind of what Don Pasquale should be all about.
Donizetti’s 19th century opera buffa (comic opera) is an ebullient game of wits between a pair of young lovers and an elderly bachelor, the former being aided by a wily physician. Ernesto and Norina are in love, but Ernesto’s uncle Don Pasquale wants him to marry another woman. When he refuses, he is threatened with being disinherited. Plus, Don Pasquale decides he himself will get married instead, and have an heir. The Don’s physician, Malatesta, thinks this is a very bad idea and enters into a pact with Ernesto and Norina. She becomes a “fake” wife to Don Pasquale, and then turns their marriage into a “hell”, hopefully to teach the Don the folly of his ways – being foolish enough to want to marry at an old age. This being a comedy, not a tragedy, everything gets resolved in the most merry (if slightly far-fetched) way, the true lovers are united, and a rousing finale is sung.
On opening night we saw a most dynamic and lyrical partnership between Brittany Smith (Norina) and Lunga Hallam (Ernesto), their touching Tornami a dir che m’ami duet being a highlight. Luvuyo Mbundu was a confident and self-assured Dr Malatesta, while in the title role Bongani Kubheka was utterly engaging, accruing sympathy and eliciting amusement at his fate. The chorus formed a large, ebullient and full-voiced presence, whilst the line-up of young schoolgirls (and boy) nearly stole the show with their cuteness. And holding the score together, Spanish conductor Daniel Montané kept the UCT Orchestra on form at a fine pace.
The CTO and UCT Opera School can be proud of a job really well done, with a fantastic team of local and international creatives at the helm, the hemlines and the heart of this Don Pasquale.
Where and when: Baxter from 21 to 25 August 2018