WELSH National Opera’s made a triumphant debut at the Octagon Theatre in Yeovil, with their witty, up-to-the-minute adaptation of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale.
Most of the eager audience was delighted by the lively and colourful show, with its on-stage band (doubling at moments as a chorus of sorts) and its very Welsh approach to the story of an old man who tries to thwart the ambitions of his nephew-and-heir Ernesto by marrying a young girl and getting himself a child.
Here the old boy in question runs a street food van, selling kebabs, sausages and burgers. And his nephew, dreaming of pop stardom, has fallen for a penniless vegan, Norina. When Ernesto’s mate Malatesta discovers Pasquale’s plans, he devises a much cunninger one. He will invent a sister (to be impersonated by Norina) and mock up a wedding for her and Pasquale.
Director Daisy Evans has created a terrific libretto, working alongside Stephen Higgins, who leads the orchestra from the keyboards through his “new” score. All the important Donizetti references are made, as the comic opera is brought right up to date and into Barry Island vernacular.
I did hear one member of the Yeovil audience saying “Yes, it’s all very well, but WHY?”, but he was drowned out by the roar of approval. The production is fully thought through, huge fun and brilliantly performed by the small touring cast. If you are looking for a way to ensure the continuation of the art form, there can’t be a better way to introduce young audiences into the drama and delight of live opera.
Andrew Shore is a properly ridiculous Pasquale, with Nico Darmanin as the star-struck Ernesto and Harriet Eyley as a feisty Norina. It’s hard for Quirijn de Lang not to steal the scene as the Frank’n’Furter inspired Malatesta, adding essential “gender fluidity” to this already diverse production.
The inventive set, designed by Loren Elstein, transfers the Italian night to one on the Welsh coast, all colourfully lit by Jake Wiltshire.
Let’s hope WNO will be back at the Octagon next year, and that this Don Pasquale is revived, so that many more can enjoy its delights.