In what has been a particularly gloomy winter, Scottish Opera’s cheery and colourful new production of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale is a particularly welcome tonic to lift even the most melancholy of spirits. Director Renaud Doucet and designer André Barbe have clearly had huge fun relocating Giovanni Ruffini’s 19th-century comedia dell’arte story to 1960s Rome where we find Pasquale the cantankerous owner of a small run-down Pensione, stuffed full of feline objects and memorabilia, for although he is unhealthily obsessed with cats, this Pasquale is allergic to live ones.

Alfonso Antoniozzi © KK Dundas
Alfonso Antoniozzi
© KK Dundas

In this familiar tale, Pasquale seeks a suitor while forbidding his nephew Ernesto’s marriage to Norina, whom he considers socially inferior. The mischievous Dr Malatesta sees this situation as a perfect chance to contrive a suitable comeuppance to put his friend Pasquale’s gas at a peep, and the amusing morality tale of what happens when a tetchy old man takes a much younger wife begins.

While the main characters concentrate on the story, mention must be made of the trio of rum Pensione employees who pepper the opera with visual comedy gags. The fag-in-the-mouth maid simply overwhelmed with endless amounts of washing, the ladle-waving cook and a doddery porter so perpetually comatose that the Doctor checks whether he is still breathing – sparkly vignettes from Sandra Haxton, Steven Faughey and Andy Fraser.

Barbe’s set was a delight in itself: the many lines of washing framing the bright terracotta Pensione interior eventually lifted to reveal its roof terrace and distorted roofscape beyond, wonderfully detailed down to the bird perched on the high-up wonky TV aerial.

Alfonso Antoniozzi was a comical Pasquale, holding court in his dressing gown while spooning impossible quantities of sugar into his morning espresso. He spruced himself up into a smart light blue striped suit to meet his “bride from the Convent”, Sophronia (Norina in disguise) and was suitably outraged when she immediately changed the furniture, left a trail of massive bills and disappeared off to the theatre on the wedding night. Nicholas Lester’s finely sung Malatesta was well matched, no more so than in the formidable patter duet in the last act. Fellow Australian Aldo Di Toro’s Ernesto warmed during the evening, culminating in the charming serenade “Com’è gentil”Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson gave a thrilling performance as Norina with a bright, clear voice and perfect coloratura. She had the greatest of fun causing a major upset, as she twisted the Don round her finger using her alluring feline mannerisms. A Samling scholar only recently out of opera school, she is a definitely a voice to watch out for.

© KK Dundas
© KK Dundas
The brightly dressed chorus of highly individual characters were supportive and sang well, and the Scottish Opera Orchestra under Francesco Corti gave a lively account of the score, though they could have been reined in more – they were too loud at several points, tending to overwhelm the voices onstage.

Looked at from a distance, there are probably darker parts to the story of the old man who took a younger wife, but this production thankfully stayed very much on the lighter side, and sent an audience out still chuckling at the final curtain-call surprise.

Scottish Opera is currently looking for a musical director to take the company forwards. Although this production moves across to Edinburgh for three further performances, this was the last show in Scottish Opera’s Theatre Royal as it now closes to allow the completion and integration of a smart new entrance, bars, stairways and lifts to be ready in time for the Commonwealth Games. Opera fans in Scotland have their fingers crossed that Scottish Opera will boldly seize the challenges that lie ahead.