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Nikki Einfeld [Photo: http://www.nikkieinfeld.com/]
30 Dec 2013

Don Pasquale, Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera opened its 41st season with a rootin’ tootin’ new production of Don Pasquale from November 23 through 29, last staged by the Prairie company in 1997.

Don Pasquale, Manitoba Opera

A review by Holly Harris

Above: Nikki Einfeld [Photo courtesy of artist]

 

Donizetti’s opera buffa is typically set in circa 1840s Rome. 1840s Rome. This tongue-in-cheek version à la spaghetti western based on San Diego Opera’s 2002 production (originally conceived by David Gately) transplants the story 40 years later to an imagined American Wild West, where men were men and women pack pistols while belting out high Fs.

Stage directed by Winnipegger Robert Herriot, the 160-minute (with two intermissions) production also featured the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra led by Tyrone Paterson. Tony Fanning’s intricately detailed sets on loan from the SDO featured a hotel lobby, study and garden, with a wheeled horse providing dramatic entrances for the cowpokes. Bill Williams’ lighting design and period, western costumes by Helen Rodgers rounded out the show.

Manitoba Opera is to be commended for daring to mess with the popular comedy. However, all too often, the extra hijinks and stage business pulled focus from many of the opera’s “big” vocal moments, which inadvertently competed with mariachi bands, pantalooned floozies and even a stuffed squirrel. Ruffini’s libretto contains enough inherent comedy; by negating or avoiding poignant contrasts, such as with Norina and Ernesto’s heartfelt Act III duet “Tornami a dir che m’ami” in which they pledge their love, “more” actually became “less.”

However, Donizetti’s operas are ultimately about bel canto and MO’s newest production teemed with soaring arias and vocal pyrotechnics delivered (almost) flawlessly by the fine international cast.

Last seen delivering a sparkling portrayal of Marie in MO’s 2012 production of Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment, Winnipeg-born Nikki Einfeld flounced about the stage as sassy widow Norina during her opening cavatinaQuel guardo il cavliere/So anch’io la virtù magic” before her wheedling “Via, caro sposino ” replete with gravity-defying runs. Her clear lyric colouratura soprano has only grown stronger and more confident with each passing year – plus she swings a mean lasso; proving herself both a comedic and vocal heir apparent to her renowned mentor, Tracy Dahl who performed the same role in 1997.

Another pleasure was seeing acclaimed character bass-baritone, Peter Strummer in the title role, last heard three years ago as Dr. Bartolo during MO’s The Barber of Seville. After a few balance problems with the orchestra resolved during opening “Ah, un foco insolito,” his booming voice and fearless buffo comedy always entertained.

American tenor Michele Angelini’s chaps-wearing cowboy Ernesto enthralled right from his first aria “Mi fa il destino mendico.” In Act II’s“ Cercherò lontana terra” his golden voice floated even higher than the frothy bubbles in his bathtub.

Lyric baritone Brett Polegato’s Dr. Malatesta stylized as a cigar-toting Buffalo Bill with requisite sidekick Hop Sing (Alan Wong) machinated the plot like a master puppeteer. His robust opening aria “Bella siccome un angelo” was matched equally by his rapid-fire delivery of “Aspetta, aspetta, cara sposina” performed with a spluttering Strummer. An encore reprise (usually performed), would have been the icing on this multi-syllabic show-stopper.

The Manitoba Opera Chorus ably prepared by Tadeusz Biernacki injected welcomed spectacle and energy as the newly hired household help during Act III’s “I diamanti, presto, presto” and later “Che interminabile andirivieni!” performed with mocking glee.

Holly Harris

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