Don Pasquale - Opera Holland Park, 9 June 2011
The last time I saw this opera was at the Met, where the starry pairing of Anna Netrebko and Mariusz Kwiecień dominated a traditionally-styled production. Faced with a somewhat less glamorous cast at Holland Park, Stephen Barlow cleverly makes a virtue of their homeliness by relocating the story in a faded English seaside resort. Don Pasquale (Donald Maxwell) runs the clapped out Casa del Fish'n'Chips. Norina (Majella Cullagh, unflatteringly costumed) is a buxom lady of a certain age, in the circumstances a delightfully credible pursuer.
Barlow doesn't address the central hole in the plot - why doesn't Norina tell her real suitor, Ernesto, of the plan to dupe Don Pasquale? (Schenk's Met solution was brilliantly played.) And Cullagh has more chemistry with Maxwell than her Ernesto, Colin Lee (who predictably outclassed the rest of the cast vocally).
But there are some lovely touches as the police restrain the despairing Ernesto, and chorus members cameo as elderly tourists, lycra-clad joggers and a gay couple with a baby. Barlow keeps things moving throughout without ever cluttering up the stage. He even addresses the opera's concluding paradox - for Ernesto and Norina to be truly happy, they must inherit Don Pasquale's wealth, and there's only one way that's going to happen. It was easy to forget how musically uninspired and depressingly misanthropic the work is, and just settle down and enjoy the comedy.
Richard Bonynge kept up a sprightly pace in the pit, with the orchestra gamely donning woolly hats and thick jackets as the temperature dropped sharply later on. A terrific start to the Holland Park season.