dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Opera but not as we know it
Welsh National Opera's touring adaptation of the Donizetti comedy is Don Pasquale with a difference. The company has taken the 1843 opera and pulled it right into the present time. But we are not just talking a modern staging here, we are talking a whole re-working of the opera so that in many ways it's Don Pasquale as we know it – but in many more ways it's not.
Donizetti's story tells of the aged Don Pasquale who is so determined to disinherit his nephew Ernesto he decides to take a wife to sire heirs of his own. But Ernesto, together with his friend Malatesta and girlfriend Norina, decide to outsmart him.
This scenario remains at the heart of WNO's Don Pasquale but the don is now the proud owner of a doner kebab caravan, his nephew dreams of a future via Britain's Got Talent and Ernesto's girlfriend Norina is running a vegan juice bar.
Created by director Daisy Evans and conductor Stephen Higgins, this production takes everything from the original and shakes it around. A new libretto is packed full of current allusions so features discussions on recycling, the benefits of kale juice and the novel Fifty Shades of Grey. It's also been very strongly moved to South Wales with Pasquale's van being parked up in Cardiff and a good many local phrases thrown in for good measure. And on top of that the orchestra is replaced by an on-stage band meaning even the music is different.
Andrew Shore's Pasquale is a buffoon but a likeable one. There's something quite nostalgic about his love of the late night kebab, his refusal to embrace modern trends and his belief that he's still a good catch for any woman. Shore gives us a very comic Pasquale who is easily taken in by the youngsters around him and it's that naïve side to his nature which wins us over.
He is no match for Norina, who in the guise of Malatesta's sister, pretends to marry Pasquale and then make his life hell. Harriet Eyley plays a Norina full of mischief who loves the fun of tricking Pasquale but also has a heart of gold as she attempts to save the planet one juice at a time.
Harriet Eyley as Norina and Andrew Shore at Pasquale
Nico Darmanin as Ernesto gives some great performances as a wannabe rock star and gains some of the biggest laughs as he attempts to sing a love aria while complaining about cramp in his legs and hiding behind the recycling bins.
But the real star of the show is Quirijn de Lang as the fixer Malatesta. Stalking on stage with his skin-tight leather-look snakeskin sheer tops, leopard and snake skin jackets, his chunky silver jewellery and heavily made-up eyes he's both very sexual and yet androgynous at the same time. He is clear with his motive – this is a game to him and he's happy to play it with all the characters – and in doing so he is the mover and shaker pushing the story forward. The Dutch baritone certainly gives his best on the Welsh accent although whether he is aiming for Cardiff or the Valleys is a bit uncertain!
Quirijn de Lang as Malatesta and Nico Darmanin as Ernesto
There's also a cameo from Sir Bryn Terfel on film taking on the role of a fake lawyer confirming the marriage between Pasquale and Norina while munching his way through packets of crisps and sandwiches.
Loren Elstein's set is fantastic with Pasquale's van packed with detail while still leaving plenty of space for the band and for much of the action to take place on the tables the don has for his customers.
Don Pasquale follows the success of the mid-scale tour of WNO's Rhondda Rips it Up last summer and it's in a similar vein. It's irreverent and daft with lots of humour and current messages about equality for women and protecting the environment. Opera purists may shudder in horror but what WNO is doing very successfully is bringing opera into the modern world, making it fun, relevant and a great night out.
WNO's Don Pasquale played Midlands Art Centre in Birmingham and tours the UK until mid-July. For full details see www.wno.org.uk/pasquale