PALM BEACH OPERA (1-27-06)
By Lawrence Budmen
The last year has brought a veritable feast of operas by bel canto master Gaetano Donizetti to South Florida. Last March Florida Grand Opera produced Lucia di Lammermoor with soprano Leah Partridge providing vocal fireworks and frightening intensity in a Mad Scene that won the coloratura Gold Medal. (A promising lyric tenor James Valenti made his debut in that production – definitely a singer to watch.) In early January, 2006 FGO offered a light, bright version of La Fille du Regiment – Donizetti a la Francaise. Two terrific young singers – Chen Reiss and John Osborne – lit up the stage with their vibrant personalities and voices that spelled vocal gold. Now Palm Beach Opera brought the master’s delightful opera buffa Don Pasquale to the stage of West Palm Beach’s Kravis Center. The opening night performance on January 27 was as sparkling and effervescent as good champagne.
British director-designer John Pascoe reset the opera in 1920’s New York. The doddering Don Pasquale lived in a Fifth Avenue townhouse. Norina was a flapper with a Marilyn Monroe wig. The entire production was great fun. When Norina hired new servants, it seemed as if Hollywood had invaded Don Pasquale’s life. Pascoe’s direction was witty and the comedy really had snap. That is exactly what opera buffa is all about.
In the title role veteran bass Paul Plishka stole the show. This is a great end of career role for him. His low notes still have depth and resonance. If he uses vocal tricks to mask some vocal deterioration further up the staff, Plishka can spin out rapid fire patter like virtually no one else. (His duet with baritone Michael Chioldi as Dr. Malatesta was faster than I have ever heard it sung. The two terrific artists – really fine musicians both – encored this gem in response to the audience’s delighted ovation.) Plishka also brought welcome pathos to the role of the egotistical old fool.
Chioldi was a handsome presence – the image of an elegant New York lawyer. His dark hewn baritone has vibrant resonance. Chioldi dominated his scenes and made the schemer genuinely likeable.
Maria Kanyova was a fetching, adorable Norina. With her scintillating soprano voice and terrific comic timing, she really made the evening. Her exquisite pianissimos and glittering coloratura was the real thing - a young Roberta Peters. She made Donizetti’s finely chiseled arias and coloratura roulades really soar. This was the kind of singing you keep hearing long after the performance has concluded. Kanyova is musical and dramatic gold. (She also does such dramatic roles as Janacek’s Jenufa.) She definitely has real star quality.
Tenor Jesus Garcia (who starred on Broadway in Buz Lahrmann’s version of La Boheme) was a playboy Ernesto. His light, sweet lyric voice was magical in the aria Come gentil and the duet with the irresistible Ms. Kanyova. The ensemble scenes were beautifully sung and filled with subtle comic touches.
Spanish conductor Edmon Colomer led a lithe, spirited performance. He drew some of the most supple, elegant playing the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra has ever done. Reduced to two acts, the entire evening was an uninterrupted delight. In the words of Ira Gershwin “who could ask for anything more?”