sun 29/01/2023

Don Pasquale, Irish National Opera review - stock comedy shines at close quarters | reviews, news & interviews

Don Pasquale, Irish National Opera review - stock comedy shines at close quarters

Don Pasquale, Irish National Opera review - stock comedy shines at close quarters

Four principals and 12 instrumentalists, zestfully conducted, bring style to up-front farce

Norina (Kelli-Ann Masterson), Ernesto (Patrick Kabongo) and Malatesta (Ben McAteer) corner Don Pasquale (Graeme Danby)All images by Pat Redmond

Only a group of top musicians stood, or mostly sat, between a full but necessarily small house and Dr Malatesta’s Plastic Surgery Clinic in the bijou surroundings of Dun Laoghaire’s 324-seater Pavilion Theatre.

The scaled-down wing of Irish National Opera’s season, touring between a highly-acclaimed production of Guillaume Tell and next March’s Der Rosenkavalier, worked so well because the same high values that have marked the other company offerings I’ve seen so far are very much in evidence.

Donizetti’s stock farce of an old man duped into thinking he’s got himself a demure bride may not have the wit of Gilbert and Sullivan, but its true Italian style – enhanced here by singing in the original language, with spoken ad libs gilding the lily - deserves due care from all concerned. Very much leading the focused brio is young Austrian-Spanish conductor Teresa Riveiro Böhm. She makes sure that the shenanigans in the surgery during the Overture – not least three very funny makeovers for ordinary folk wanting to look like magazine celebs – don’t pull too much focus from the work of her excellent instrumentalists. Kelli-Ann Masterson and Ben McAteer with wife-disguise in mindDonizetti's score sounds more sophisticated than usual, especially in the stylish solos of leader Sarah Sew. And there may not be a trumpet for the celebrated melancholy prelude to Act 2, but Daniel Souto on cor anglais somehow makes it sound even lovelier.

The teamwork on stage is equally impressive, the singers game to execute any daft routine Orpha Phelan asks of them (not everything reads; though the airline ritual which follows that cor anglais is wittily done with props from the surgery, you wonder why Ernesto is flying away – is it a fantasy, or what?) That delivery boy bringing in the product during the Overture turns out to be our tenor, and Congo-born Patrick Kabongo has exactly the right light voice-type for the role; finessing will come in time. His sweetheart Norina is the nurse on tap; Kelli-Ann Masterson (pictured above with Ben McAteer's Malatesta) has all the high notes and the charm, though she might have gone for even more OTT dudgeon when girl-from-the-convent Sofronia turns into Don Pasquale’s worst nightmare as the not-so-convenient wife. Chorus and Graham Danby in INO Don PasqualePerhaps, though, for all the choreographed steps, Phelan doesn’t want too much overkill from her principals. Graeme Danby gets it just right as the old dupe, brilliant with the patter in the Act 2 finale and able to contort his funny mug as the situation demands, but he doesn’t force the singing. Nor does Ben McAteer as a Malatesta sounding more handsome of voice than the pre-show caution of his ailing state suggested: just perfect, in fact.

The chorus of five (pictured above with Danby) works overtime, too, pulling off its belated collective-star number with perfect timing. The designs by Nicky Shaw, variously lit by Matt Haskins, are luxury for an on-the-road production, even if we probably need to get from Malatesta's surgery to Pasquale's house before Act 3. Lucky Ireland to discover opera around the country from a line-up as accomplished as this.

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