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Oxford Playhouse

The Welsh National Opera have again produced a “reduced” version of an opera to tour small scale and mid-sized venues throughout this summer. Except to say that is to undersell what is really going on. This production is a clever re-conception and update of a great opera buffa that presents us with one of the most theatrically delightful shows imaginable.

The sell-out audience was clearly completely involved from start to finish and gave the cast and musicians a terrific and totally deserved ovation at the end. It is almost irrelevant to explain the twists of contemporary relevance that Daisy Evans, who also directs brilliantly, has given to the original opera; or how well the arrangement of the music for a band of seven by Stephen Higgins not only works in the circumstances but also evokes and is faithful to the original score. The update of the action to a contemporary doner kebab van in Cardiff creates a situation of great hilarity and the opportunity for a lot of good jokes. Don Pasquale owns the van; his nephew, Ernesto, wants to be a pop star; Ernesto’s innamorta, Norina, owns the vegan van opposite, and so on. The script somehow manages to be an almost Marx Brothers style take on the original; and like the Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera it is a delightful homage to romantic opera, sending up the conventions and tropes with enormous affection, charm and wit.

Andrew Shore is the perfect casting for Don Pasquale, bringing to the role his superb vocal command, his years of buffo experience, his personal immense stage worthiness and an ability to convey both the silliness and the touching qualities of the character. Nico Darmanin and Harriet Eyley are strong singers with lovely voices, and they are also able to clown convincingly; but I do with that the re-conception had allowed Darmanin a bit more nuance and poignancy in his two big Ernesto arias. That said, I would love to see both again in different roles. Quirijn de Lang had a very fine voice indeed and nearly steals the show with his louche, laughable and almost heroically physical portrayal of a young Malatesta, hanging around his friends and doing his best to manipulate Don Pasquale into coming to terms with his ageing self and his blinkered vision. The famous duet between Don Pasquale and Malatesta stopped the show the night I attended. The singers can not only act, they can articulate their words so that you actually understand what is going on throughout. Turning the recitatives into dialogue worked partly because all the principals were such capable actors. Musically and dramatically this show is a total treat from start to finish; and a very fine introduction to one of the great, classic comic operas of the Romantic era. Donizetti is well served by the Welsh National Opera in this hilarious, captivating approach to the opera.

  • Opera
  • By Gaetano Donizetti
  • Original Italian libretto by Giovanni Ruffini, translated and rewritten by Daisy Evans
  • Musical arrangements, musical direction and conducting by Stephen Higgins
  • Cast includes: Andrew Shore, Nico Darmanin, Harriet Eyley, Quirijn de Lang
  • Oxford Playhouse
  • Touring until 13th July 2019

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Canadian-born Mel Cooper first came to the UK to study English Literature at Oxford University and stayed. He was captivated by the culture and history of Britain, which he found to be a welcoming and tolerant country. After working in highly illustrated, non-fiction publishing for over a decade, he founded and edited the magazine Opera Now. Since then he has worked as a consultant to the Japanese broadcaster NHK, a broadcaster on British Satellite Broadcasting, a maker of audio shows and arts critic for several airlines, and as one of the team that started Britain’s first commercial classical music radio station, Classic FM, on which he was both a classical music DJ and creator and presenter of shows like Classic America and Authentic Performance. Throughout this period, he also lectured in music and literature in London and Oxford and published short stories in Canada. After working with the Genesis Foundation on helping to fund arts projects, he continues to write, review and lecture on music and literature. His first novel has just been published as an e-book. The title is City of Dreams. It is the first volume of a projected saga called The Dream Bearers. You can find the Kindle version of the book on Amazon.

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