Laurent Pelly’s take on “Don Pasquale” this summer at Santa Fe Opera is tight, funny and physical. With only five characters and no chorus, this narrowly focused opera allows for each individual voice, and actor, to shine. Beyond that, thanks to Pelly, a particularly energetic director, the production moves.
As a musical entity, this “Don Pasquale” offer superb bel canto singing and attention by the conductor, Corrado Ravaris, to all the rhythmic humor in Rossini’s joyous score. As a theatrical piece, Pelly keeps things quick, and seems informed by abstract dance and reality TV, at the same time. With four male singers vs. a single soprano, this opera is also a bit like “Boystown: the Opera,” with one comic diva and a whole lot of intertwining melodies for big-voiced men.
In a real-life, “All About Eve,” moment, the understudy for Laura Tatulescu stepped in on opening night, as well as the July 9 performance I saw. (Tatulescu later dropped out of the production claiming allergy issues). Shelley Jackson, the understudy, who has had quite a summer, is a second-year apprentice at the opera, a graduate from the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia and is headed off to the Opernhaus Zürich International Opera Studio after this. She clearly had the support of her three uncles, and projected confidence and ringing high notes. Bravo to the understudy! Bravo Shelley Jackson! May your star shine with brilliance.
In regards to the other singers, Alek Shrader cut a dashing figure as the romantic lead, Ernesto. His voice has a young, halcyonic clarity to it. The lack of stridency in tone and bravado in performance added lustre to Shraders’ committed, light-on-the-feet performance. As Doctor Malatesta, Zachary Nelson also telegraphs a youthful intensity as the puppeteer behind the plot. Andrew Shore, in the title role, is an old man not quite ready to call it a day. His frustrations serve as he cornerstone of this frothy, love-filled piece. As if to underline the mental state of Don Pasquale, the sets, designed by Chantal Thomas, feature a slowly-spinning house.
Brenda Rae, in residence at Santa Fe Opera to star in an unusual double-bill this summer, Mozart’s “The Impresario” juxtaposed (and combined) with Stravinsky’s “Le Rossignol,” will take over the part of Norina through July. Shelley Jackson will be given two more shots at the star-making part at the end of the season.