D.C. opera's 'Pasquale,' a well-worked production, amuses and entertains

January 04, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

It's sometimes said that any company good enough to put on a good performance of Donizetti's "Don Pasquale" shouldn't. But this terrific little piece has four superbly written parts, and music that -- in its humanity and humor -- almost approaches the level of Mozart.

It also has a plot powered by a superb comic engine: The elderly Don Pasquale decides to disinherit his nephew Ernesto because the latter, in love with the beautiful Norina, has refused to marry the woman Pasquale has chosen; Dr. Malatesta comes to the lovers' rescue, arranging for Pasquale to marry "Sofronia" (actually Norina in disguise), a bashful young thing just out of the convent; Sofronia soon becomes a hellion who makes Pasquale so miserable that he leaps at Malatesta's suggestion that he can rid himself of her by letting Ernesto marry Norina. It's a plot that dates back to ancient Roman comedy, and no one -- not even Ben Jonson who used it for his "The Silent Woman" -- ever put it to better use. The Washington Opera's "Pasquale" at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater does not boast a star-studded cast, but it's a fine production of a beautiful work. This production, which dates back to 1979, is directed by Paolo Montarsolo who also sings the title part. This distinguished singer-director, now 68 years old, knows the piece backward and forward -- and it shows. With its amusing silent film titles that introduce individual scenes, its authentic early 19th-century decor, its characters touched with a humanity that makes them more than mere farcical stereotypes and its lively pace, Montarsolo's direction yields one laugh after another.

This "Pasquale" also features some fine singing. Jan Grissom, the young soprano who sings Norina, has a lovely, sustained trill and a smooth voice that produces coloratura high notes without an edge. Her teasing Norina -- she portrays the hellion Sofronia as the sort of southern belle who makes the more frequently encountered American Princess seem like a member of the lumpenproletariat -- could not be sexier or more vivacious. Kimm Julian's suavely handsome and youthful-sounding Malatesta was also a pleasure to hear and to watch.

The rest of the cast was not as good. Craig Estepp was occasionally bland as Ernesto -- although admittedly this part doesn't ask for much except youthful ardor. And Montarsolo, sadly, is a little too old for the part of Pasquale. He is a fine comic actor who still gives pleasure in this role, but his voice no longer has the agility needed for the great buffo patter duet with Malatesta in Act III.

But these are quibbles about a show that also features Zack Brown's colorful scenery and costumes, solid singing by the chorus and competent work from the orchestra under conductor Paulette Haupt.


"Don Pasquale" will be repeated Jan. 5, 7, 9, 11, 15, 18, 24, 26, 30. Remaining tickets are $80. Call (202) 416-7800 for details.

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