The essence of Don Pasquale splendidly delivered by Wanderlust Opera at St Andrew’s lunchtime concert

St Andrew’s lunchtime concerts

Wanderlust Opera
Donizetti: Don Pasquale – selections, in English

Director and narrator: Jacqueline Coats
Piano: Mark Dorrell
Stuart Coats (Don Pasquale), Barbara Paterson (Ernesto), Georgia Jamieson Emms (Norina)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 1 May, 12:15 pm

For several years Wanderlust Opera has been on the road doing what our professional opera company should be doing (did do for a couple of years in the 2000s): taking cut-down versions of opera to the provincial cities and towns. They’ve performed a variety of shows: Sondheim, a pot-pourri of songs from musicals, Cosi fan tutte and The Marriage of Figaro.

Pasquale toured eight centres in January and February this year and in August will continue with Tauranga and Hamilton. Unfortunately, Middle C missed the Wellington performance in February. We’re not sure whether there might be another performance in Wellington. This was a very reduced one, in English: just three singers, with the major role of Doctor Malatesta unsung because of Craig Beardsworth’s unavailability.

But the three singers here created a splendid opera-buffa style show, all three delighting in the farcical opportunities that Donizetti and his librettists knew how to exploit. (incidentally, the opera was based on an earlier opera by Stefano Pavesi, Ser Marcantonio in 1810, which was drawn from a Ben Jonson play of 1609, The Silent Woman. Strauss’s late opera Die schweigsame Frau, libretto Stefan Zweig, was also based on the same play).

We skipped the opening scene where Dr Malatesta describes a young lady who will make Pasquale a wonderful wife while Pasquale tells Malatesta of his plan to kick his nephew out of the house for refusing the offer of a wife who will presumably benefit, not the nephew so much as Pasquale himself.  We had Stuart Coats energetically overacting his reaction to the prospect of marriage, the Italian ‘Un foco insolito’, a brilliant waltz-style aria that set the scene irresistibly. Malatesta was present in the form of a small plaster bust.

Ernesto, the nephew, a tenor role, was sung by soprano, perhaps a strange substitution but it was explained that ‘We wanted to use a tenor but none of them could yo-yo as well as Barbara Paterson”. The substitute trouser role quickly became just so right! The confrontation, demands rapid shift from Ernesto laughing at Pasquale’s marriage plan to dismay when he refuses Pasquale’s offer of a bride.

It is Malatesta who is the manipulator, and narrator/director Jacqueline Coats created his presence with lively narrative and gestures; it is Malatesta’s sister, Norina, with whom Ernesto is in love, reciprocally, and whom he seems to be offering Pasquale as wife. She falls in with Malatesta’s plan to thwart Pasquale by producing Norina, momentarily as the shy, obedient, convent-educated ‘Sofronia’, acquiescing obediently to marriage. But then, after the marriage, she turns into Georgia Jamieson Emms, the real Norina, a fearless virago: refusing to obey, ordering clothes, coaches and horses, more servants, announcing she’s going alone to the theatre. Jamieson Emms revealed many of her histrionic talents as she confronted Pasquale and took command of everything with bold yet interesting voice and flamboyant behaviour.

Even though much of the music is left out, there is no lack of brilliant and engaging arias and duets in those bits of the opera that were presented. Donizetti’s brilliant orchestra that supports and comments on the action with wit and sensitivity is compressed into Mark Dorrell’s piano rendition which very often reinforces the emotion, such as when Pasquale realises that he’s been made a fool of and a subdued piano accompanies his pathetic defeat.

In the third act, ‘Sofronia’ drops a note that reveals to Pasquale, who picks it up, that she will meet her lover in the garden that night, and Pasquale decides on divorce. That is easily accomplished since the marriage was a sham. In a full staging the business in the garden can seem a bit protracted; but here we heard nothing that wasn’t a highlight, and those who didn’t know its twists and turns and the many equally brilliant or delightful numbers that were missing, would have been fully convinced by this three-quarter-hour’s worth of admirably sung, accompanied and ‘staged’ Donizetti.


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