Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Spaghetti Western

March 14, 2012

Danielle de Niese and Charles Castronovo Photo: Ken Howard/SDO 2012
Donizetti’s Don Pasquale returned to the San Diego Opera last weekend in the third production of their 2012 season. It’s the first time the opera has been seen there in a decade and its return brought with it David Gately’s popular Southwestern-themed production, which originated there and went on to thrive in many cities around the country in the intervening years. It’s still very cute and suits Doniztti’s opera well. It’s still filled with ten-gallon hats, mariachi bands, and excuse for its tenor, in this outing Charles Castronovo, to show off his physical assets in a bathtub scene that opens Act II. What’s not to love?

San Diego Opera fielded a solid American cast for this outing. (It’s first performances of the opera in 1980 included Giorgio Tozzi and Beverly Sills.) And Castronovo was undoubtedly a highlight even with his shirt on. His light and agile tenor is a perfect fit for this opera and his warm personality made his beleaguered Ernesto particularly sympathetic. The opera is named for Ernesto’s elderly buffoon of an uncle, Don Pasquale, who decides to take a much younger wife at the expense of Ernesto who will not be given permission to marry his young love Norina. Norina, however, who is in cahoots with Pasquale’s physician and advisor Dr. Malatesta, has other plans and soon hatches a plot to trick Pasquale into marrying her while she is pretending to be Malatesta’s convent-raised shy sister Sofronia only to exact her revenge on Pasquale by giving him far more than he bargained for when their sham marriage contract is signed.

John Del Carlo stars as Pasquale and he still musters the power and breath control to manage the patter singing and coloratura work readily. He was somewhat foiled in the pit by conductor Marco Guidarini who insisted on rather languid tempi throughout much of the evening that Del Carlo couldn’t seem to quite coalesce with. Star soprano and Southern California native Danielle de Niese sang Norina and managed the pacing a bit better. She is a splendid actor with ample fire and stage presence. The spunky Norina seems tailor made for her in nearly every sense if perhaps not completely the best vocal fit. De Niese has made her mark on the opera world to date mostly by singing Mozart and Baroque roles, and while she is no stranger to bel canto parts, her vibrato tended toward the broad side and she had some difficulty sustaining longer vocal lines to their conclusion without turning a little breathy.

But these vocal quibbles aren’t the kind of thing that distracts from the evening’s overall success, and first and foremost, this Don Pasquale is funny and charming. That, my friends, is what a comic opera is supposed to do. The show has two more performances on the 16th and 18th in San Diego.


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