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2018 Fort Worth Opera Festival
Composer—Gaetano Donizetti
Librettist—Giovanni Ruffini
Sung in Italian

Bass Hall, Fort Worth

Conductor—Joe Illick
Director—Chuck Hudson
Scenic Designer—Peter Nolle
Costume Designer—Kathleen Trott
Lighting Designer—Eric Watkins
Video Projections Designer—Doug Provost
Sound Designer—Ra Byn Taylor
Make-up and Wig Designer—Audrey Schwartz

CAST (in order of vocal appearance)
Pasquale, an elderly bachelor—Burak Bilgili
Dr. Malatesta, his physician—Andrew Wilkowske
Ernesto, Pasquale’s nephew—Ji-Min Park
Norina, a youthful widow, beloved of Ernesto—Audrey Luna
A notary, Malatesta’s cousin Carlotto—John Sauvey
Max, the butler—Dustin Curry

Reviewed Performance: 5/6/2018

Reviewed by Genevieve Croft , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Have you ever been to an opera and walked out humming the concept? It usually does not happen, for the main reason companies keep staging “classic” works is to keep their magnificent music in the public ear. However, sometimes the visions of the director and designer are so much at the forefront of a production that the music ends up playing second fiddle.

To be perfectly honest, I had never heard of Don Pasquale. But, that should be no surprise. It is not one of those instantly recognizable titles. It did not have detectable music, that has been used for parody songs or commercials. In fact, I had to research Donizetti’s name to see if I knew any operas by the composer before attending Sunday, to no avail.

Yet, I was attracted to the concept of the Opera Buffa (Comic Opera) for two reasons: first, I was pleased to see something of light and comical nature (a la Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” or Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro”). These are two of my favorite operatic works.

While I appreciate the tragic and serious operas, I have to admit, that I am not the biggest fan for the “four hour” German operas by Wagner. Second, I was intrigued by the short synopsis that was provided regarding the staging, the concept, and the vast array of 1950’s characters and actors that were to appear. Individuals such as Elvis Presley, Groucho Marx, Lucille Ball, and Calamity Jane appeared in the company. I am sure you must be thinking, “Wait a minute… Elvis? Lucille Ball? In an opera from the 1800’s? That cannot be right.” Intrigued yet? Read on.

While Don Pasquale was not the instantly recognizable operatic selection, Donizetti wove beauty into his romantic arias and composed duets, trios and quartets with such enjoyable vocal presence that his music is never pushed aside by imaginative staging and concept established by Director, Chuck Hudson. Both ideas seemingly play well with each other, demonstrating that the many disciplines of the fine arts collaborate well with each other, and form a unique puzzle, with each individual piece providing purpose for the entire picture.

Director Chuck Hudson’s framework is that the rich, grumpy and aging Don Pasquale, who is out to cut his nephew out of his inheritance and find love for himself, is a former silent film star consigned to “legend” status. It’s now the 1950s, and Hollywood’s gone Technicolor, leaving his career in the dust as he tries to revive it in one bad sci-fi flick after another. I found this be very reminiscent of the true cinematic legends in the heyday of Hollywood. Much of this information is delivered in newsreel-style footage during the overture and between scenes. It’s a lot of fun — particularly trailers for the bad ‘50s films like “Tentacles 2” — that proves a clever and creative way to use minutes normally spent in a darkened theater during scene changes. It kept the story line consistently moving, allowing the two and a half hour opera to fly by. How many operas can you say that about?

While reading the Director’s notes, I discovered that Mr. Hudson pays homage to his mentor, master mime Marcel Marceau throughout the production. In a scene with Pasquale’s distressed nephew, the comic timing and form of Marceau becomes apparent as Ernesto proves inept at one suicide method after another. with very little (if any music.) One of the most humorous moments for the audience was when the lone noose drops in with impeccable timing. Mr. Park had fantastic facial expressions, and added humor to the most depressing of topics.

The four lead vocal performers do tremendous things with their characterizations and with Donizetti’s music. In the title role, Burak Bilgili appear in black, white and gray make-up to contrast with the bright colors around him. As the story unfolds, things slowly start to turn to color-reflecting the changing times of Hollywood in the 1950’s.

Told in the style of “Commedia dell’arte,” Mr. Bilgili’s stock character of Pantalone is believably smitten with his prospective courtesan and contrasts nicely and also works in tandem with fellow bass-baritone Andrew Wilkowske as the doctor who launches the revenge plot propelling the story.

But the opera’s best arias almost invariably are given to the lone woman in the central quartet, and Audrey Luna sings each with a clear, powerful soprano and an ideal combination of charm, and later unpleasantness and snarky as she drops the pretense of docility, and drops the initial charm that Don Pasquale once saw. Her initial aria — delivered during what appears to be a bubble bath commercial — is a delight, as are her romantic duets with Ji-Min Park as Don Pasquale’s nephew, Ernesto. Mr. Park’s voice full and impressive and is bursting with beauty and emotion.

As a novice, but appreciated fan of Opera, I found that the overall vision was creative, and appealing. It would certainly be a fantastic introduction to anyone who has a “distaste” for opera. The story was humorous, and the music was clever and well sung. This production of Don Pasquale makes for a delightful experience of comic opera. Although the 2018 Fort Worth Opera Festival has closed (for this round), I highly encourage you to research and investigate opportunities to attend the Fort Worth Opera.

From the Opera buffa to the magnificent works such as Bizet’s Carmen (presented earlier this year), you will be most impressed to see the works presented by the Fort Worth Opera, an organization that has brought classic operatic works to the stage for 72 years.