Vancouver Opera’s 2023-24 season continues in February with Gaetano Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, the production setting a 19th-century classic in a colour-splattered Technicolor 1960s Rome.
Have a thing for mid-century furniture, spin-art shift dresses, and Popsicle-green housecats? If so, you’re already genetically predisposed to loving artistic team Barbe & Doucet’s vision for an opera that’s not only regarded as the high point of 19th century opera buffa, but in fact helped kill it in its tracks.
When somebody—Donizetti in this case—clocks in with a definitive work, there’s no point trying to top it.
For the unitiated, Don Pasquale tells the story of a lifelong bachelor who hatches a marriage plan to cut his rebellious nephew out of his will. The payout at stake upon his death? That would be a run-down pensione overrun with fantastically neon-hued cats. Working to short circuit the plan are the nephew Ernesto and his girlfriend, who manages to slip into the role of Pasquale’s would-be bride.
Beyond the suprisingly multi-layered story and gorgeously detailed music (hello, “Tornami A Dir Che M’Ami”), the big draw here will be the pop-art-indebted work of costume/set designer André Barbe and stage director/choreographer Renaud Doucet. Vancouver audiences last saw their work in a 2019 reimagining of La Boheme.
The duo describes their vision here as follows: “We imagined that Don Pasquale owns a small, run-down pensione. Old and something of a hermit, he leaves the running of the hotel to his nephew Ernesto and to his staff—a rum bunch including a chain-smoking chambermaid, a greasy cook, and a past-it porter, so old that he has has shrunk inside his uniform. A chorus of tourists come and go.”
Suggesting that Donizetti might have had plenty to talk about with modern-day jackasses like Seth McFarlane and the Farrelly Brothers, Don Pasquale was generally regarded as too lowbrow for its own good when it his the stage in Paris in 1843. Which is all the more reason to love it today. Sometimes the class clown wins.
Where: Queen Elizabeth Theatre
When: February 10, 15, and 18