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Don Pasquale review: Bringing laughter from 19th century Italy to 21st century Donegal

Opera: INO successfully transposes Donizetti’s manic comic energy to a contemporary setting

Don Pasquale

An Grianán, Letterkenny

In 1843 Gaetano Donizetti was planning to make people laugh. Could he have foreseen, as he put the finishing touches on Don Pasquale, that two centuries later the magical comic energy he gave his 64th opera would survive and make people laugh in 2022? Make me laugh?

Well I did. It would be lovely to think he could see me laughing – out loud – in the midst of a laughing-out-loud audience, centuries later, far from his native Italy, in Donegal, at the opening night of Irish National Opera’s (INO’s) long nationwide tour

Before the premiere, Donizette knew success would depend on factors beyond his brilliant score and the funny libretto. And it is these same factors that INO nails in 2022.

All of them click. Director Orpha Phelan opens a direct channel to laughter by updating the story to the present day. Her 21st-century audience need invest no effort in cultural translation from Donizetti’s 19th century – they get everything instantly and respond with laughter. Arguing that “people are never quite what they seem,” Phelan moves the story to the premises of a well-to-do plastic surgeon, the idea brought vividly to life by Nicky Shaw’s contemporary sets and costumes and the soft-focus lighting of Matt Haskins.


And so it is that the elderly Pasquale appears clad in hospital gown and Y-fronts, waltzing with a large wholesale consignment of Viagra. In his every moment, bass Graeme Danby moves and mugs and poses with comic brilliance. He makes you relish the approaching comeuppance for Pasquale after he spitefully disowns his nephew and plans to produce an heir himself.

For this to work the old man needs a young bride. Enter soprano Kelli-Ann Masterson, as Norina, masquerading as the bride in an elaborate prank to foil Pasquale, when in fact she and the nephew are lovers. Masterson proves to be the star, a delight, and everything Norina needs to be – charming and coquettish, young and energetic, game for anything – while at the same time sweetly navigating the famous vocal demands of Donizetti’s bel canto.

She and Danby are ideally complemented – both vocally and in dramatic energy and comic timing – by baritone Ben McAteer as Pasquale’s friend Malatesta (the plastic surgeon), and tenor Patrick Kabongo as the nephew. The four principals are in turn supported by an excellent chorus of five.

After initially sorting balance issues between pit and stage, conductor Teresa Riveiro Böhm keeps the playing deft and playful with INO’s twelve-piece touring orchestra.

Irish National Opera’s Don Pasquale runs in Navan, Galway, Ennis, Dundalk, Kilkenny and Dún Laoghaire between Tuesday November 29th and Sunday, December 11th. The tour resumes in February, with Rhodri Prys Jones replacing Patrick Kabongo as Ernesto, playing in Bray, Waterford, Cork, Limerick and Tralee between Thursday 2nd and Saturday 11th