The staging of Don Pasquale in societies where Elder Abuse is an issue creates some delicate considerations regarding the way the principal character is portrayed (although many would consider less than seventy far from elderly). State Opera of South Australia have engaged Cathy Dadd, Australia’s best revival director, to craft a new production into a twenty year old set, at Adelaide’s intimate Opera Studio. She has done well, using minimal props and dividing the scenes into two acts, the first ending with the quartet that usually concludes Act 2, with Ernesto and Norina (Sofronia) hand in hand on one side and Malatesta trying to calm Pasquale on the other. Thus Act 1 concluded by filling the theatre with such impressively measured sound that it completely absorbed me into the moment. Less pleasing, and unexpected, was the decision to perform the opera in English, consequently losing much of the rhythm, flow and nuance of the Italian original.

Dadd made ‘the slap’ by Sofronia, as she fought her new husband Pasquale, a turning point in the Don’s character, sensitively played by experienced bass baritone Andrew Collis. Until that incident he was a candidate, even a willing victim, for Elder Abuse, yet emerging from the encounter he regained composure and build a more impressive presence, very evident in his patter song with Doctor Malatesta (Jason Barry-Smith) which concluded this scene in Pasquale’s house. So engaging was it they returned for an encore (in this production this seemed quite a natural thing to do), and footlights, in the shape of cups and saucers, lit up!

All four principals were impressive, as were the minor roles. All acted cleverly, especially comically gifted Andrew Turner, Pasquale’s silent valet.

Gaetano Donizetti had wasted no time when composing Don Pasquale, almost his last opera, also contributing significantly in shaping the libretto. His music is bright and colourful, the plot and characters a typical commedia dell’arte structure: an enticing leading lady; her young admirer; an old buffoon becoming a cuckold; and a conniving schemer supporting the young lovers.

Impressive was the sweet tenor and clever acting expressions of Brenton Spiteri’s Ernesto. His beautifully rich “How nice the night” was outstanding, initially sung off-stage with the exquisitely dictioned singers from the Elder Conservatorium and State Opera Chorus, and accompanied by James Rawley on acoustic guitar, with a stage becoming bejewelled with a multitude of stars in the night sky. Quite thrilling!

Andrew Collis’ Pasquale, impressive from the start in floppy dressing gown, pink pyjamas and green pom-pomed slippers, had presence whatever he did, be it opening his money-crammed safe, kicking an imaginary goal, or dressing up to meet his intended. Collis sang with an amazing adaptability and range of expression. He conveyed cheery, youthful excitement when making arrangements for getting married, a trance-like broken-heartedness reeling as Sofronia eventually rejected him, then a revived spirit in planning to catch his rival, and finally with generous munificence forgiving the trio who had conspired against him, all of these moods echoed and enhanced by the playing of the Elder Conservatorium Chamber Ensemble, under encouraging guidance of Luke Dollman.

Saucy soprano Sarah-Jane Pattichis was a strong Norina, in a slightly strident style, no doubt to deliberately suit the person that was Sofronia in full sail, issuing commands, spending Pasquale’s safe full of money and shattering his dreams of a bliss filled life. Such a voice was less convincing both when scheming with Malatesta, where she appeared strong willed and lacking patience, and as the fiancé of young and at times despairing Ernesto. However their great duet, “Come back to tell me you're mine” while lacking the smoothness of the Italian “Tornami a dir che m’ami”, did show Pattichis’ sweeter potential as, looking lovingly into his eyes, she blended beautifully with the lyrical tenor smoothness of Spiteri. Words weren’t necessary to know what they were singing.

Baritone Jason Barry-Smith, wearing a ‘Dastardly Dan’ moustache presented delightfully as Doctor Malatesta, oozing charm and connivance, his voice smooth, his diction precise, his acting impressive. Barry-Smith’s Malatesta was the glue that brought the other characters together, devised the plots and engineered the outcomes. He could command the right voice and intonation for each occasion. While the orchestra has remarkable music to reinforce the action, Donizetti has composed some of the best to compliment the words of Malatesta, and Barry-Smith made the most of this.

Expressive, too, underscoring the gloom of Ernesto’s ‘poor me’ feeling that everyone had deserted him, was the mournful trombone (yes!) playing of Charles Marshall, as Spiteri moped and meditated on his fate “to live and suffer”.

This time all ended happily. Pasquale redeemed, showed his magnanimity and forgiving nature in his willingness to share in the joke.