Opera Queensland’s production of this funny and musically satisfying opera by Donizetti is a great team effort, in which no individual is vastly superior to any other nor where anyone lets the team down.
The show sparkles from beginning to end: Cathy Dadd and assistant director Kelly Redhead have succeeded admirably in bringing out the movement and energy of original director Andrew Sinclair’s concept, while the Queensland Orchestra under Graham Abbott sets a strong pace and provides a consistently rich and full sound (sometimes a little too full for the vocalists, in the acoustically generous Conservatorium Theatre). Musically the piece is obviously challenging: vocalists and instrumentalists alike do well in mastering the complex music and giving the impression that all is froth and bubble.
Andrew Collis presents a sympathetic and multifaceted buffoon as the elderly bachelor Don Pasquale. His strong baritone which has already impressed Opera Queensland audiences twice this year is united with a fine ability to establish character. Helen Donaldson as Norina is an absolute delight. Brisbane audiences may remember Donaldson from her vocally thrilling Mabel in the Simon Gallaher/Jon English Pirates of Penzance of 1994. It is good to have her back in a role where she demonstrates her versatility shifting from demure novice to rampaging shrew in an instant, and making both convincing.
Her admirer, Ernesto, is beautifully sung by Henry Choo, whose soaring tenor voice is combined with an aptitude for sly comic work. The comedic master in the ensemble is Jason Barry-Smith as Dr Malatesta, the wickedly clever physician who adroitly manipulates all and sundry. Particularly memorable is his rapid pace duet with Collis. Shaun Brown as the notary also contributes well, both in singing and acting.
Tony Tripp’s design is a comic masterpiece in itself. In all sorts of ways Pasquale’s stingy lifestyle is contrasted with the opulence conjured up by his bride. The show has many amusing touches such as the ever-changing clothing hanging on the line to represent the current character, and the ragged old military jacket donned by Pasquale, emitting clouds of dust and even a live moth. Donn Byrnes’ colourful lighting design rounds off the effect.
There isn’t a great deal of work for the chorus. They don’t even make an appearance in the first act. But their moments on stage are consistently pleasing, with their rich sound and well-choreographed mayhem as undisciplined servants. (Their numbers sometimes crowd the boxed set: I would have preferred to see the whole stage used.)
The production leaves the impression that the whole ensemble derived enormous fun from putting it all together, and their enthusiasm vibrantly spreads to the audience.
It’s a splendid choice for Opera Queensland’s forthcoming August regional tour with conductor Ollivier-Philippe Cuneo, encompassing the Gold Coast (5th), Maryborough (7th), Toowoomba (10th), Rockhampton (14th), Mackay (17th), Townsville (19th) and Cairns (21st).