Friday night’s capacity crowd at the opening of Hubbard Hall Opera Theater’s production of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” couldn’t help cheering. What they saw and heard from a company that must be working on little more than a shoestring budget was close to revelatory.
The show boasted the right elements and all were presented at the highest standards. Although there were no “name” singers, the leads had adequate experience to be more than convincing and the mixed chorus, which had several vocal students, was adept, balanced and intensely enthusiastic. What made the show work, however, was the incredible flair everyone had for comedy. The show was pure fun.
The two-act opera premiered in 1843. But director Heidi Lauren Duke wisely updated it to what looked like the Edwardian era as evidenced by Norina’s flapper dresses and Ernesto’s argyle sweaters and socks that made him look like the Duke of Windsor in his golf togs. As such, the opera is a playful deception on Pasquale.
The four leads all had strong voices. Bass Brace Negron as Don Pasquale rumbled with dark grandeur. Baritone Andrew Bawden as his doctor Malatesta was smooth and eloquent. Tenor Glen Seven Allen as Ernesto, Norina’s beloved, showed he could be tender as well as strident, although the intensity with which he sang was sometimes too constant. Local soprano Vedrana Kalas as Norina was agile, dramatic and soaring.
Together, they were a troupe of experienced comics each playing off the other, let alone playing to the crowd, which loved it. Best of all, they worked with each other in a natural way — stage movement was not overdone or satirized and always done with much vitality.
Duke worked wonders with blocking and having the set, which was minimal with only a few props, include walkways around the small orchestra, which was below stage level. She cleverly used the space to much advantage — even to having the women of the chorus sometimes in dance numbers. This only added to the fun.
Pacing, which is so important in a comedy, was quicksilver fast.
What a wonderful idea, too, to have the four leads in a humorous silent movie kind of pantomime while the orchestra played the long overture. The orchestra worked well under the adept direction of Maria Sensi Sellner, and got into the spirit of the show.
Only occasionally did Sellner allow balances to overwhelm a singer. Sherry Recineela’s costumes were appropriate as was Jason Dolmetsch’s lighting.
Other performances are 8 p.m. Aug. 18, and 2 p.m. on Aug. 20 and 21.
The company’s other opera, Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas,” is 8 p.m. Aug. 19 and 20.