Monday, October 17, 2016

San Francisco Opera's Don Pasquale

San Francisco Opera
Donizetti’s Don Pasquale
October 15, 2016

Maurizio Muraro as Don Pasquale. All photos by Cory Weaver.
SFO’s effervescent production featured rising superstar Lawrence Brownlee in the role of Ernesto, and it’s no wonder he inspires such a hubbub everywhere he goes. In a world of spinto after spinto, Brownlee’s lyric tenor is a wondrous, angelic creature, which rose to its greatest beauty in the Act 3 serenade, “Come’e gentil” and the following duet with Norina, “Tornami a dir che m’ami.” Brownlee also transmitted a radiant personality and some impressively athletic slapstick, performing an upside-down window-dangle that had “concussion” written all over it.

The only room for improvement, really, is in the area of dynamics; Brownlee could spend more energy shaping his phrases, and he had a couple of excellent role models right there on the War Memorial stage. Playing Norina, soprano Heidi Stober exhibited the deft bel canto tone San Franciscans have come to expect, but really struck lightning when Norina signed her marriage certificate and went into full bitch mode. Most notable among Stober’s weapons was a supremely powerful crescendo, used a handful of times to strike fear in her new victim/husband.

Heidi Stober as Norina.
But the evening truly belonged to our Pasquale, Maurizio Muraro. Scientifically speaking, the higher voices have a distinct advantage in cutting through the orchestra, but Muraro’s bass-baritone seems to be nuclear-powered. He played the dirty old man with dozens of nimble little gags (likely handed down from singer to singer over centuries), and captured all of Pasquale’s amusing dimensions: the delusional toupeed horndog, the flabbergasted, walking-wallet husband – even, after being slapped by his his new bride, a picture of poignancy (“All is over for Don Pasquale”). At one point, in a line that mentioned horses, he actually neighed the note! Brilliant.

Baritone Lucas Meacham did an excellent job as the instigator, Dr. Malatesta, duly savoring his machinations and achieving a rare mid-piece ovation after an electric run of patter with Muraro in “Cheti, cheti, immantinente.”

Lawrence Brownlee as Ernesto.
Stage director Laurent Pelly polished the gags to a shine, and even choreographed a series of small, quirky moves for the chorus’s Act 3 commentary, “Che interminabile andirivieni!” Chantal Tomas’s set is a wonder, a rotating interior set among 1950s tenements. The players routinely ignored the fourth wall (and the third wall) for comic effect, and created all kinds of havoc with the skewed doors. Post-nuptials, Pasquale’s life was literally turned upside-down, his beloved armchair hovering in the heavens as Norina cluttered his former ceiling with mod furniture. (Oddly, the time-shift didn’t really change much, except in matters of costume and setting.)

Duane Schuler’s precision lighting augmented the comedy admirably. Giuseppe Finzi led an energetic reading of the score; in the overture, the woodwinds were a particular pleasure.

Maurizio Muraro, Lucas Meacham (Dr. Malatesta) and Chantal Tomas's set.
This was the last performance of the run. SFO’s season continues with The Makropulos Case (Oct. 14-29), Aida (Nov. 5-Dec. 6) and Madame Butterfly (Nov. 6-Dec. 4)., 415/864-3330.