Gothenburg’s travelling production of Don Pasquale
The Gothenburg Opera’s travelling version of Don Pasquale given at a small town in the region was a model of how to present a 19th century comic opera to an audience, many of whom may have been unfamiliar with the genre. A good start was to perform it in a Swedish translation (though this was, of course, lost on me). Financial constraints necessitated an adaptation of the score for four musicians and a simple, single stage design. Both dimensions proved to be beneficial, rather than a handicap, as they lured the audience directly into the spirit of the work. More of a challenge was how to present a romantic, whimsical piece on the well-worn theme of an old codger wanting to wed a pretty young thing and thereby thwart her lover. To play it “straight” might risk coming up with something trite and silly.
Director Annika Lindqvist’s solution was both original and compelling, a witty commentary on contemporary mores, at the same time, cocking a snook at romantic gush and bel canto conventions. And, if a feminist slant is added, who is to complain? So, Don Pasquale (Markus Schwartz) becomes a middle-aged masculine-type, over-confident and vulgar. With her brash contempt of him, Norina (Anna Forsebo) is far from the demure maiden of the original; nor is she too impressed by the moonstruck sentimentality of Ernesto (Viktor Johansson). Malatesta (Mattias Ermedahl) is firmly anchored in reality and realises that there are financial advantages in getting the matter sorted by placating everybody. All the characters were well portrayed and ably managed the frenetic movements devised for them. They also sang well and if, at times, there was a hard edge to tone and phrasing, far removed from Donizettian expectations, this was all part and parcel of an anti-bel canto interpretation.
A word, finally, for the music adaptation. Per Larsson, who also conducted, had devised a light, springy – almost jazz-like – version of the score for wind (flute, clarinet or saxophone), guitar, bass and keyboard which carried the work forward with élan and good humour and yet remained faithful to Donizetti’s score. All in all, a cracking, good evening.