Review: Don Pasquale, Mansfield Palace Theatre

Don Pasquale
Don Pasquale

IF you like your opera fresh, frothy and funny -- with a light sprinkling of snow -- then Mansfield Palace Theatre was the place to be on Sunday.

That’s when the enterprising Swansea City Opera made a return visit to town with Donizetti’s comic masterpiece ‘Don Pasquale.’

And for those who braved the snow, it was an evening of excellent entertainment in the best “bel canto” tradition from a quality quartet that delivered on every note in this beautifully staged production in 1840s costumes.

This was more than evident in this, the most popular of Donizetti’s 66 operas, in a story of love, deception and marrying at your peril, something that elderly bachelor Don Pasquale (Paul Hudson) found out after being tricked into marrying a younger woman to disinherit his nephew, Ernesto (Ben Kerslake).

But the brains behind this cunning plan was family friend Malesta (Aris Nadirian) who was more interested in advancing the cause of his sister, Norina (Helen Massey) getting hitched to Ernesto . . . something that Don Pasquale finally agreed to as well signing up to the sentiments “that old men marry at their peril.”

For those marking their diaries, there’s more opera in store later in the year when Mid Wales Opera stop off at the Palace on 13th October with the comedy confection ‘Albert Herring,’ part of the group’s contribution to the 100th birthday celebrations of composer Benjamin Britten.

Further details can be found at www.mansfield.gov.uk/palacetheatre or by visiting www.britten100.org or www.midwalesopera.co.uk

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Earlier in the month the weather was not a problem, more choosing what to watch from a triple treat from Welsh National Opera at Birmingham’s Hippodrome.

Subtitled ‘Free Spirits,’ the programme featured three works -- Berg’s ‘Lulu,’ Janacek’s ‘The Cunning Little Vixen’ and ‘Madam Butterfly’ by Puccini -- composed within just over 30 years of each other in the early 1900s, yet still crowd pullers for a new generation of music lovers.

And it was heartening to see the audience for ‘Madam Butterfly’ included several school trips, whose young charges were no doubt bowled over by this ever-popular story of love and loss between geisha girl ‘Butterfly’ (sung with style and conviction by Australian soprano Cheryl Barker) and American naval officer Pinkerton (Gwyn Hughes Jones).

WNO returns to Birmingham in mid-June with a double delight for Wagner fans with his epic ‘Lohengrin,’ set in Antwerp in the early 10th century, and Jonathan Harvey’s new work ‘Wagner Dream’ which takes Venice as its backdrop where the dying composer is obsessed by his desire to write a music drama about the Buddha.

Further details of the mid-summer programme, which also includes a repeat staging of ‘Madam Butterfly,’ can be obtained from WNO on www.wno.org.uk or from the Hippodrome on www.birminghamhippodrome.com

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Nearer to home, the Leeds-based Opera North made their first of this year’s two visits to Nottingham Theatre Royal with three separate productions, one of them a contrasting double bill on the recurring theme of love and loss with a standout performance from Doncaster-born Lesley Garrett as Elle in ‘La Voix Humaine’ set by Francis Poulenc in 1959 to a libretto by playwright Jean Cocteau.

However, this was not the glitzy Paris that Lesley enjoyed eight years ago in ‘The Merry Widow’ but one of isolation and desperation as holed up in her Parisian apartment she let the audience eavesdrop in on a 50-minute telephone monologue, plus crossed lines and engaged numbers, as she pleaded with an unseen lover who was dumping her.

This operatic rarity, which must have been as taxing for her as some of the audience, was paired with a new production of Purcell’s tragic love story ‘Dido and Aeneas’ complete with Dido’s moving lament ‘When I am laid in earth.’

Also in the line-up were two new productions -- a debut staging for Opera North of Verdi’s ‘Otello’ as part of the celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth, and one of Mozart’s last works, ‘La Clemenza de Tito,’ a joyful mix of glorious music for the female voice and stirring choruses.

Opera North returns in celebratory mood in November, marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Britten, with three of his major works -- a repeat staging of ‘Peter Grimes,’ ‘Death in Venice’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’

Further details of showtimes and ticket prices can be obtained from the Theatre Royal on www.trch.co.uk or from Opera North on www.operanorth.co.uk

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There’s a post-Easter present for music fans when English Touring Opera live up to their motto of “opera that moves” when they stop off at Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre for a two-night engagement as part of an extensive three-month UK tour.

On Monday 8th April it’s Mozart’s classic comedy of love and deception in ‘Cosi fan tutte,’ while the following evening, Tuesday 9th, Verdi’s legacy is remembered in ‘Simon Boccanegra,’ a heart-breaking story of political intrigue and jealousy. Both performances start at 7.45pm, and further details can be obtained from www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk