“O! What’s Occurring?” Donizetti’s comic opera Don Pasquale, as you’ve never seen or heard him before, that’s what!
Before you stop reading, (as so many people do when they see the word – opera!) the WNO’s latest touring production really is a modern day take on an operatic classic, but perhaps more identifiable than you’d imagine!
Set in and around Don(er) Pasquale’s Cardiff-based doner kebab van, it’s the story of an old bachelor’s romantic delusions and the young sweethearts who outwit him.
Pasquale (Andrew Shore) is the self-made patriarch who came to Cardiff in the 1970s to seek his fortune. In the decades since, he has built up a fast-food empire and a roaring trade on a Friday evening. His nephew Ernesto (Nico Darmanin), helps Pasquale, but dreams of fame and fortune as a singer have affected his work. Pasquale doesn’t want to leave his empire to his nephew so decides to cut out Ernesto’s inheritance and get married himself in order to produce his own heirs.
While Ernesto’s future seems uncertain, his vegan girlfriend Norina (Harriet Eyley) and local dweller Malatesta (Quirijn De Lang) conspire to trick Pasquale. Norina poses as Mamatesta’s fictitious sister from Llandrindod in order to secure their future and change Pasquale’s doner empire into a fully-fledged Vegan restaurant.
Among the on-stage discarded kebab packaging, bins and condiments Loren Elstein’s set design magically transports the audience into the 21st century Cardiff setting for Pasquale. An old doner Kebab van with a 7-piece street band (arranged by Stephen Higgins) which perform beside it wouldn’t seem out of place in an episode of Gavin & Stacey and nor would the characters that frequent the storyline.
Andrew Shore’s Pasquale is larger-than-life, carrying a strong physique to match his operatic baritone along with the comedic delivery. At times, his characterisation and comic timing reminded me of the legendary Ronnie Barker, except enhanced even further for the world of comic opera!
Nico Darmanin brings fun and energy to Ernesto, as he dreams of fame and fortune. His highlights included singing on a spotlighted table top and later crooning for his love of Norina as he crouches below the kebab van bins with a numb leg!
Quirijn De Lang is the flamboyant dweller with a hint of rock star, Malatesta, who moves between all the characters with fun and style as his plan to help Ernesto and Norina unfolds.
Harriet Eyley gives a magical two-fold performance as the cute dungaree-clad health drink seller, Norina, who transforms into a vivacious valleys siren and turns both Pasquale and Ernesto’s worlds upside down with love and desire while she dazzles the audience with her beautiful soprano delivery.
There’s also a very funny on-screen guest appearance (via skype) of a fake marriage officiator that stirs up even more mayhem. I’ll leave that identity of the unaccredited guest for those who go to see the show!
Director Daisy Evans deserves to be applauded for the clever reworking of this tale. I particularly felt the production flowed brilliantly and kept the audience attentive and laughing throughout the proceedings on the productions opening night of the tour at Newport’s Riverfront Theatre.
The accompanying street band under direction of Stephen Higgins were also magnificent cheekily cheering on the plot as well as providing mood-music (especially Angela Whelan’s magnificent trumpet solo).
Very Welsh, very funny and very operatic, the Welsh National Opera’s new take on Don Pasquale retains its classic edge while remaining contemporary.
Don’t miss this latest offering as it tours several venues across the UK this Summer.