Saturday, July 28, 2012

Don Pasquale truly sings at Boston Midsummer Opera

Leslie Ann Bradley and Ricardo Lugo make beautiful music in Don Pasquale.
Okay, the short review of Boston Midsummer Opera's Don Pasquale is: go.

And you have to go soon, as tomorrow is the last performance.

But why should you go? (The question any review must answer.)

In two words, the voices.

Actually, three more words: and the conducting.

Yes, in purely musical terms, this take on Donizetti's late-career commedia romp is almost always enchanting. Ricardo Lugo brings a warmly resonant bass to the lead, Donizetti's version of the elderly "Pantalone" who is determined to keep his nephew from marrying, but of course is duped into blessing the nuptials himself.

And he's flanked by local star David Kravitz - the praises of whose baritone I must sing whenever he sings - and Canadian newcomer Leslie Ann Bradley, whose soprano perhaps didn't have the nimble bloom I yearn for in bel canto,  but whose upper registers are utterly clean and secure, with their own pure glow.  Filling out the cast was young tenor Alex Richardson, who certainly showed promise but who tended to thin out at his high end.

The news was just as good - perhaps even better - down in the pit: BMO artistic director Susan Davenny Wyner conducted with sensitive brio throughout.   She was working with a reduced string section (perhaps due to the limits of the Tsai Performance Center?), but drew wonderful detail and color from her cellist and winds, and always kept the ensemble lively and on point.  It would be very nice to hear more from Ms. Wyner during the regular concert season - perhaps at the helm of some other local group (hint, hint)?

The production did have its dramatic (and comedic) shortcomings, however.  The aging Donizetti clearly intended to marble his commedia dell'arte antics with a genuine sympathy for their prime target - but here we seemed to get all the sympathy for Pantalone, but comparatively little of the baggy-pants fun at his expense.   Director Austin Pendleton did deliver the big moments, but he was rarely inventive elsewhere - Lugo, Bradley, and (of course) Kravitz clearly all had comic chops to burn, but little chance to shine in this strangely chaste rendering.  Indeed, this version's most powerful and distinctive moment came with the humiliating slap from his "bride" that Don Pasquale eventually endures - I wouldn't have wanted to lose the depth of that climax, but it would have been even more striking if it had drawn us up short from more sparkling action.  The production had other quirks - the set was stylish, but oddly austere, and the costumes ranged pointlessly from the Victorian to the modern and back.  Still, if you closed your eyes, all was well, and for many opera lovers that's enough.

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