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Gaetano Donizetti, Don Pasquale (1843)
Based on: a libretto by Angelo Anelli
Setting: Rome, early 19th century

Plot in 101 words or less: Don Pasquale (street name: Easter Bunny) decides to cut off his nephew, Ernesto (street name: The Determinator). Somehow he thinks getting married himself will help accomplish this. For who knows what reason, his doctor, Malatesta (street name: Head Trip), arranges to “help” by marrying Pasquale to his sister, Sofronia (street name: Nuns-R-Us), who is in reality Norina (street name: Scout’s Honor), Ernesto’s lover in disguise. Again, for who knows what reason, Malatesta does not immediately inform Ernesto of this plan. After being “married” by a false notary, Sofronia/Norina becomes impossible so that Pasquale will want to “divorce” her. Wackiness ensues.

Sung in: Italian

Don Pasquale's world is literally turned upside down by the machinations of Dr. Malatesta. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Don Pasquale’s world is literally turned upside down by the machinations of Dr. Malatesta. Photo by Cory Weaver.

The brilliant fall season at San Francisco Opera continues apace with Don Pasquale, a delightful bel canto comedy by Gaetano Donizetti. While I think there are more than a few problems with the structure and plot of this piece, San Francisco Opera has brought together an incredible cast and creative staging to make the most of this work.

First, the cast. Maurizio Muraro is a lively and sympathetic Don Pasquale, Lawrence Brownlee’s Ernesto won me over with his incredible tone and physical comedy, Heidi Stober was as charming as ever as the duplicitous Norina, and Adler Fellow Edward Nelson more than held his own as Dr. Malatesta, despite my initial disappointment we weren’t seeing Lucas Meachem.

Lawrence Brownlee as Ernesto maintained an incredible tone through all sorts of physical comedy. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Lawrence Brownlee as Ernesto maintained an incredible tone through all sorts of physical comedy. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Second, the staging. While the sets and costumes here naturally pale in comparison to those found in Andrea Chénier and Dream of the Red Chamber, the design team of Laurent Pelly (direction, costume design) and Chantal Thomas (set design)—whose Les Contes d’Hoffmann I adored—make the most of an opera that doesn’t really lend itself to creativity in this regard.

All of this window dressing is assisted by some lovely musical numbers and numerous comic opportunities. I think I heard more spontaneous and hearty laughter during this production than any other I’ve seen.

Heidi Stober as Norina as Sofronia and Maurizio Muraro as Don Pasquale. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Heidi Stober as Norina as Sofronia and Maurizio Muraro as Don Pasquale. Photo by Cory Weaver.

However, I do think the plot holes are rather egregious, even for an opera buffa. Why does Dr. Malatesta set up Don Pasquale for a fall in the first place? Why does he decide to help Ernesto? When exactly did Norina and Malatesta hatch their scheme? And why is Ernesto not in on it? Why does Pasquale still agree to the wedding once he sees what they’ve done? It all could have used more development. And, at only two hours and thirty minutes with intermission, it certainly had the room.

Speaking of which, I’m not sure why this production didn’t have an intermission between Act I and Act II. It seemed very odd to go so long without a break and then have such a short final act—especially in a comedy. But I suppose these are minor quibbles, Don Pasquale was really quite fun.

Maurizio Muraro is a lively old bachelor in Don Pasquale. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Maurizio Muraro is a lively old bachelor in Don Pasquale. Photo by Cory Weaver.

There are three more performances of Don Pasquale at the War Memorial Opera House on October 7, 12, and 15. Run, don’t walk, to see this delightful confection!

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