Fine Performances Refresh Don Pasquale

Review by Robert Liebowitz

Opera is no doubt a powerful, highly expressive art, but most productions of operas usually disappoint. Why? Simple–every other production element that goes into making a theatrical event is simply ignored; all that is concentrated on is the actual singing. Acting, directing, set design, costumes, make up, lights…these get treated like step-children and, unbeknown to the director, their production suffers as a result. Add the Met’s recent production of Tosca to this list of passable but mediocre endeavors.

Happily, however,  this notion has made a U Turn of sorts, at least for the short while. The Bronx Opera’s production of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale has not only exceeded expectations, but has done the near impossible–taken a minor, insignificant work, and converted it into a captivating, entertaining, successful evening. Sometimes taking a small step, sometimes a great leap, this version surprises at every turn.

Donzinetti composed this near the end of his life, taking all of two weeks; sometimes it feels as if he were double parked while writing. The music is unmemorable and as dull as dishwater; the plot is a tiresome, grade-school cliched collage of trickery that dozens of composers have done better. The hidden gem, however, is the libretto, sung in English, and still sparkling 160 years after its inception. A tip of the hat goes to Director Royston Coppenger for simply having the good insight or fortune of casting correctly, which in turn brought this gem into a vital, glistening light.

It is highlighted by the brilliant, wise-cracking, scheming-but-with-a-good-heart Ms. Nicole Lee Aiossa. She portrays the sexy, wistful Norina with uncommon wit and charm, and is worth the price of admission by herself. She is helped by the able Jack Anderson White, who portrays the title role quite effectively.

The company is also to be commended for its non-traditional casting of Robert Arthur Hughes in the role of Ernesto, Don Pasquale’s nephew. Mr. Hughes need a bit more seasoning as far as his acting goes, yet his voice– in his arias but in particular in his duets with his love interest Norina–provides a haunting contrast, and made for several memorable stretches of true dramatic story telling.

As mentioned, some of the other elements of dramatic story telling fall by the wayside in a sea of neglect. If an actor is waiting for a cue for their entrance, they must not be seen in the wings actually waiting. If one receives a letter from a servant, it must be in an envelope; if it is not, it changes the plot of the play. If one is packing clothing in a pair of suitcases, it must appear that there is at least something in these cases besides air. If a significant part of the Act II plot hinges on an actual slap, from husband to wife, then an actual slap–fingers to cheek–must occur. When you are successful, the willing suspension of disbelief enjoyed by the audience will go a long way…but then is momentarily destroyed when these inexcusable missteps occur. The costumes are from the Edwardian England Era, which would be quite an accomplishment, since the opera takes place in Italy, and the Era was nearly 70 years away, safely ensconced in the following century. A program note of time and place is required.

No matter. The Bronx Opera on the beautiful Lehman Campus hosted an enjoyable night at the opera!