If you believe that true happiness can be found in music, I have a recipe for you to follow. Take a funny story of disguise, sham and mock marriage and set it to great music. Add a quartet of bel canto stars (a lyric tenor, a coloratura soprano, a baritone and a bass) and dress them in spectacular 17th century costumes. Add pantomime artists, masked dancers and a chorus. Place all in a commedia dell’arte ‘theater within theater’ set, painted in coral and gold. Season with superb singing, impeccable acting and irresistible humor, and enjoy a perfect opera buffa, just like Donizetti’s Don Pasquale that I saw in the WNO Friday night. (Friday, 13th to be precise, but grand opera is way above bad luck superstitions, thus unsusceptible to their powers). And believe me, if a production of the described quality won’t make you happy, nothing ever will.

James Morris and Dwayne Croft © Scott Suchman
James Morris and Dwayne Croft
© Scott Suchman

A headspinning opening performance of Leon Major’s production turned out to be a perfect fusion of first-class opera and sophisticated comedy. It offered anything and everything a comic opera ever had in store for the audience: exquisite bel canto renditions, flawless coloratura passages, refined theatricality, hilarious acting and of course, traditional for the genre on-stage commotions.

Set in the era of the great Moliere and the rise of Italian comedy, this compelling production treated us to quite a few surprises. A commedia dell’ arte pantomime, a masked ballet, a breathtaking performance of Povero Ernesto by tenor Antonio Gadia and a spontaneous encore of the hilarious Pasquale-Malatesta duet, masterfully sung by James Morris and Dwayne Croft, were just a few of the evening’s numerous gems.

However, the biggest surprise (and joy!) was to watch acclaimed Wagnerian bass James Morris step into a completely new for his repertoire comic role and handle the challenge with virtuosity and ease of a buffa veteran. His Pasquale, ridiculous in his pompous wigs and scarlet stockings, was nasty enough to make the audience mock his every step in Acts 1 and 2. Yet, in Act 3 he completely stole our hearts by showing a softer side of his touching and at times almost adorable character. During the performance there was not a single grim face in the house: the audience had a two-and-a-half-hour long laugh and loved it! This was a comedy with a capital ‘C’, contagiously happy and definitely the one to remember.

If you believe that true happiness can be found in music, I have a piece of advice for you to follow. Rush to get your tickets for Leon Major’s production of Don Pasquale and let happiness into your lives! And believe me, if a production of the described quality won’t make you happy… but what am I saying?! Of course, it will.

*****