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An Oriental-Occidental mash up in comic opera Don Pasquale
NIDHI GUPTA  15th Dec 2012

A still from Don Pasquale

omedy isn't usually the stuff opera is made of. Watching Gaetano Donizetti's Don Pasquale, which was staged by the Neemrana Foundation in the capital last week, one only wonders why, back in the 18th century, not many composers thought of writing more opera buffa, or comic opera. But of the few Italians who did venture down the path of hilarity, Donizetti's classic remains a composition to reckon with.

Don Pasquale is the story of how a 70 year-old landowner, callous and vain in equal parts, decides to get married to spite his nephew, Ernesto, whom he despises. While his friend, the good Dr. Malatesta, plays the wise arbitrator and uses Pasquale's ridiculous desire to bring his sister Norino and Ernesto together, Pasquale becomes the butt of a huge hoax that brings him, rather unwillingly, to his senses.

"Don Pasquale has all the usual elements — a man, a younger girl, jealousy, surprise, morality, greed, and love. It definitely isn't very original, but novelty isn't particularly important in an opera – the singers and the visual element are more in focus," laughs director Paolo Panizza. He adds that for Indians, with their exposure to Bollywood, this story would ring familiar anyhow.

Baritone Giovanni di Mare, as the Don, was a treat, frolicking about stage as the podgy old man who shivers with excitement at the sight of the virginal 'Sarforina', but also couldn't stand up straight without support. His comic timing was just right which, along with his impeccable vocals, made him the star of the show. Soprano Aude Priya (Norino) was quite the proverbial nightingale, while Vikrant Subramanian (Malatesta) also floored the audience with his Narada act. Although Spero Bongiolatti (Ernesto) had a small role to play, he essayed his role as the dreamy young man in love perfectly.

As in all Neemrana Foundation presentations – notable among which are The Fakir of Benaras (2003), The Pearl Fishers (2005), and If I Were King (2010) – the cast, chorus, and orchestra comprised both Indian and Italian talent. "I know I am not the first to have dreamt of linking the Orient and the Occident with the powerful strains of music, but now that audiences are more prepared in India, we can widen the bridges with more ambitious projects like operas, perhaps the most challenging genre of Western classical music," says founder Francis Wacziarg.

But Panizza feels that it is essential to show opera to less discerning audiences, as in India, in its classical mode. "In Europe, opera has become 'modern', with video installations and all their adjustments, and its meaning has changed," he laments.

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