Thursday, September 29, 2016

Don Pasquale at San Francisco Opera

Maurizio Muraro (Don Pasquale) and
Lucas Meachem (Dr. Malatesta).
Photo from SF Opera web site.
Wednesday night I was in standing room at San Francisco Opera for Don Pasquale, Donizetti's sprightly farce about elder abuse. Director Laurent Pelly's modern dress staging is great fun. Comic momentum was propelled by slapstick, stylish costumes, silent movie-style pantomime, dancing & a lot of opening & closing of doors. Even from up in the balcony, I did not feel I was missing any of the action. The stylized set represents a street with houses on either side & a huge rotating room in the middle, representing Don Pasquale's home. This room also turned out to function as a megaphone. Singers' voices sometimes boomed when they were standing inside.

Ernesto 1st appearance made me laugh right away. He entered wearing his pajamas & stirring a cup of coffee. It immediately established his unambitious character & gave a reason for Don Pasquale to disinherit him. Similarly, Norina's shabby apartment, with its piles of clothes & magazines but no furniture, immediately communicated her scrappy personality.

Bass-baritone Maurizio Muraro in the title role had a resonant, stentorian voice & was a terrific comic actor. His shadow boxing during his act 3 scene with Malatesta so pleased the audience that they spontaneously applauded mid-duet. He was also a very human & sympathetic Pasquale. Tenor Lawrence Brownlee has a unique voice. It's light & agile & goes high up with astonishing comfort, yet it's tensile & cutting. Mr. Brownlee had to be a game performer as Ernesto. He sang into the floor while on all fours, sang while climbing a tall ladder & dangled upside down from a window.

Soprano Heidi Stober was a gutsy Norina, & the staging did nothing to ameliorate the meanness of her treatment of Pasquale. Ms. Stober sounded sturdy & a bit sultry, & she showed off startlingly big high notes. Baritone Lucas Meachem was an elegant yet shady Malatesta. His voice was firm, suave & soothing, & he was hilarious in his duets with Norina & Pasquale. The chorus was solid & lively & came across as a character in itself. 3 supers playing Pasquale's servants were amusing presences.

Conductor Giuseppe Finzi led with quick tempos & a flexible beat. The musical climaxes were pointed. All the orchestral solos sounded smooth, & the trumpet solo for Ernesto's "Cercherò lontana terra" had a nice long line & was polished. The violins' ensemble was occasionally loose.

My opera companion & I had a conversation with a friendly usher who admitted to being curious about opera but not yet a fan when she 1st started ushering. This would be a good production to attend when there is an Open Curtain. I'd like to see how they turn Don Pasquale's house upside down during intermission.

§  Don Pasquale
Music by Gaetano Donizetti
Libretto by Giovanni Ruffini and Gaetano Donizetti

San Francisco Opera
Conductor, Giuseppe Finzi
Director, Laurent Pelly

Don Pasquale, Maurizio Muraro 
Norina, Heidi Stober 
Ernesto, Lawrence Brownlee
Dr. Malatesta, Lucas Meachem
A Notary, Bojan Knežević

Wednesday 09/28/16 7:30PM
War Memorial Opera House

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