Tapping into its Bergamasco theatricality and Gaetano Donizetti legacy, an upbeat, spirited Don Pasquale opened Bergamo’s Teatro Donizetti 2015-16 season, which also marked the first production under the theater's new artistic director, Francesco Micheli. Unbashful Micheli, class of 1972, seeks to invigorate the pulse of its organizing body, the Donizetti Foundation. To wit, in the theater’s marbled, gilded, mirrored foyer, bronze busts of the Bergamasco maestro were draped in t-shirts emblazoned with the theater's bold graphic designs. Surtitles projected English astride Italian. Theater press releases were footmarked with Micheli posing against a marble statue of Donizetti in a black Ramones t-shirt and indigo jeans. Aim at nothing, and you’re sure to miss the target.

Maria Mudryak (Norina) and Pablo Ruiz (Malatesta) © Fondazione Donizetti/Gianfranco Rota
Maria Mudryak (Norina) and Pablo Ruiz (Malatesta)
© Fondazione Donizetti/Gianfranco Rota
No doubt such cheeky initiatives seek to amp-up international visibility and attract foreign visitors to the understated, northern Italian city of two faces – città alta's cobblestone streets rung in ancient walls and città bassa's commercial center – beset with museums, foundations and conservatories named after its native son, Donizetti, as well as local legend Gianandrea Gavazzeni. A “Donizetti Pride! For Expo” campaign runs from May to October with conferences, shows and concerts to celebrate its native son, aimed at wooing the tourist overflow from Milan’s Universal Exposition.

No worries – at the second (and final) replication of Donizetti’s three act dramma buffo, a full house cheered director Andrea Cigni’s update to post-1945 Paris, a nod to its 1843 Paris premiere and its Parisian roots, in a staging collaboration between eight French opera houses such as Opéra de Reims and Opéra Grand Avignon.

Set inside a windowless bank vault, Cigni's jovial direction sourced well-worn archetypes: the stingy, obstinate elder besotted by the cunning, feisty soubrette; the infatuated, lovesick young suitor; and the crafty, jack-of-all-trades tornado guiding the protagonists. Character studies included a doddering majordomo and Claudio Grasso's nearsighted Carlino. Aided by strong chemistry between the cast and Lorenzo Cutùli’s pastiche of postmodern costumes (and colorful sets), directorial cues tapped high spirits and nostalgia.

In Act III’s "Che interminabile andirivieni!", the Opera Lombardia Chorus, dressed as French maids and brass-buttoned valets, travelled from stage to orchestra and tossed banknotes pilfered from the Don’s unguarded fortune to the audience.

Maria Mudryak (Norina) and Paolo Bordogna (Don Pasquale) © Fondazione Donizetti | Gianfranco Rota
Maria Mudryak (Norina) and Paolo Bordogna (Don Pasquale)
© Fondazione Donizetti | Gianfranco Rota
After Norina raided the Don’s vaults, she transformed from a dark-haired, hot-blooded vixen to Marilyn Monroe in the iconic, pink silk dress from "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend", down to the platinum wig, bright red lips and rhinestone bracelets over satin gloves. In the Don’s moldy, dank, subterranean vault, she reappointed the drab grounds in white leather furniture, crystal chandeliers and a bearskin rub, lit in rich pink golds by Fiammetta Baldisseri.

In Act I, Norina was lowered from the sunny blue proscenium arch to the stage on a garland-encircled swing evocative of Fragonard's The Swing, while Ernesto's letter arrived in the beak of a white dove. At the “Ah, bricconissimi” finale, “Rome, Je t’aime” lit the stage etched in neon and limelight.

Christopher Franklin and the outsourced Orchestra I Pomeriggi Musicali di Milano gave a robust performance full of jaunty tempos and brio with small, charming idiosyncrasies.

As Norina, Maria Mudryak wielded an ample, fresh, robust soprano with stunning projection and sustainment for "Quel guardo il cavaliere" and "Pronta io son". Agile in pinched waists and flared skirts, she flounced and capitulated tirelessly as the irresistible soubrette.

Paolo Bordogna (Don Pasquale) and Pablo Ruiz (Malatesta) © Fondazione Donizetti | Gianfranco Rota
Paolo Bordogna (Don Pasquale) and Pablo Ruiz (Malatesta)
© Fondazione Donizetti | Gianfranco Rota
Paolo Bordogna's masterful Don Pasquale carried a soft but full-bodied baritone with lush color and lithe lift over pristine diction. In gold brocade pajamas and wild, matte-textured hair, his Don was more theatrical than Rabelaisian. Stylish demeanor and authentic stage language polished overarching vulgarities. "Ah, un foco insolito" brought poise over quicksilver.

Pietro Adaini's neat, clean-cut and earnest Ernesto was a brilliantine dandy in white knits and chinos of gentlemanly sports such as cricket and tennis. His low-color, high-vibrancy tenor was tamed into tranquil, poised exhortations such as "Sogno soave e casto" and "Povero Ernesto!". Sung from a vault rung in green hedges and a starlit sky punctured by a full moon, "Com’è genti la notte a mezzo aprile!" was remarkably tender and assured.

Pablo Ruiz's Malatesta, in head-to-toe blueberry (including fur trim) gave a spirited, cohesive performance with "Cheti cheti immantinente" and "Bella siccome un angelo" sung in delicate, colorful shades and gorgeous line.

During the curtain call, in an additional nod to Monroe nostalgia, "I Wanna Be Loved by You" played over the applause, an endearing cue. At Bergamo’s exquisite opera theater, where there's love, it's generous.