Don Pasquale Scottish Opera Festival Theatre

Another cracking production is on offer this week from Scottish Opera. This 1843 Donizetti comic opera (or opera buffa) has been updated to the more modern setting of sixties’ Rome and it fits the era perfectly, oozing with vibrant colour and Italian style. Our attention is captured from the outset as it opens with a huge fotoromanzo introduction. While the orchestra plays the overture, we are treated to a huge screen of dramatized photos of the characters which explain the background to the story to us. We learn that Don Pasquale is the owner of a rundown Pensione with three equally rundown staff, that he is allergic to cats, that he has a nephew who refuses to marry the bride chosen for him and that he has decided to disinherit this same nephew by taking a wife himself. It’s a great, fun way to get us all familiar with the story before the opera even starts and is in keeping with the sixties Italian theme. There are loads more witty touches and comic details like this employed throughout.

The set is the dated and chaotically untidy sitting room cum reception area of Don Pasquale’s Pensione with a set of stairs at the side leading to the dining room through which passes a succession of garishly clad tourists and guests. Huge washing lines are used to great effect as they are lowered and raised to change the scenes. We meet Don Pasquale (Alfonso Antoniozzi) and Doctor Malatesta (Nicholas Lester), who dupes the old man into “marrying” his sister who is in reality Ernesto’s lover Norina. The plan is that once Don Pasquale has been tricked into marriage, Norina will make his life such a misery that he renounces her and Ernesto and Norina are free to marry.

The action proceeds at a cracking pace and the music is glorious – a poignant duet between the two lovers and the tongue twisting quickfire pieces by Don Pasquale and Malatesta are particularly impressive. It is a comedy and everyone plays their part magnificently, not only the main characters but also the bit players such as the laundrywoman with her fag hanging permanently from her mouth, the beerbellied chef and the doddery old bellhop.

In the end, of course, it all ends happily and, as Norina sings in the final scene, the moral of the story is that old men should not marry, it is a young person’s game. Don Pasquale may not have been lucky in love but he is not left empty handed. Norina presents him with what looks like a cat but is actually a tiny dog in a cat’s costume.

This production by Director Renaud Doucet and designer André Barbe with orchestra conducted by former Scottish Opera Music Director Francesco Corti will appeal to both young and old, be they opera buffs or newcomers to opera. There is also an excellent Opera Unwrapped session on offer which I would highly recommend to those wishing to find out more about the mechanics of the production and get a taster of the opera.

Irene Brownlee