Winning new friends for opera

Garden Opera, Don Pasquale, Ipswich, March 6In the fourteen years since its formation, The Garden Opera Company has built an enviable and deserved reputation for taking lean but high quality operatic productions to community venues in all parts of Britain.

Garden Opera, Don Pasquale, Ipswich, March 6

In the fourteen years since its formation, The Garden Opera Company has built an enviable and deserved reputation for taking lean but high quality operatic productions to community venues in all parts of Britain. Schools, parks, country houses and a golf club all played host to Donizetti's Don Pasquale during the summer tour of 2008 which encompassed Nairn, Devon and plenty in between.

Donizetti (1797-1848) wrote his operas during a period of stability for Italian Opera. Rossini, from about 1815 onwards established the form and expectations which would prove durable enough for Bellini and Donizetti to create their masterpieces and still provide fertile soil for the early years of Verdi.

Don Pasquale was premiered in Paris in 1843 with performances at La Scala and in London the same year. The plot involves a wealthy old bachelor, Pasquale, who is planning to marry but who does not approve of his nephew Ernesto's plans to marry a lively young widow, Norina. Pasquale engages his young doctor friend, Malatesta, to help him find a wife but the doctor instead hatches a plot to dupe Pasquale and bring Ernesto and Norina together. As the production director, Duncan Macfarland, pointed out in a perceptive programme note, tricking the older generation may have been perfectly acceptable in Donizetti's time - at least on stage but quite probably off as well - but is less acceptable today. As a result he chose to set the piece in the late 1970's, complete with flares, flowered shirts and platform shoes, in an era when changing social norms really began to make an impact on middle Britain. I think it worked.


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Musically and dramatically Don Pasquale is a good choice to take around the country and win new friends for opera. It has a small cast (incidentally, what was the butler for?), a comprehensible plot, good pace, some lively tunes and can be done with a simple set, as was the case here. Deryck Hamon as Pasquale was excellent - a strong voice and projection allied to an acute sense of timing and fun. As the central character he got it just right. James McOran-Campbell as Malatesta produced a pleasing sound as well as pushing the plot along with engaging guile. As the young lovers, both Sally-Ann Shepherdson and Alexander Anderson-Hall gave full-blooded theatrical and vocal performances occasionally marred by some harshness of tone. The committed and versatile instrumentalists under Peter Bridges did a fine job in conveying the essentials of Donizetti's score. High praise is also due to the pupils of Ipswich School and their chorus-trainer, Headmaster Ian Galbraith. They sang with accuracy, enthusiasm and poise at the start of the third act.

Congratulations, Garden Opera, and we look forward to your return with Rossini next year.

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Gareth Jones

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