Zany “Don Pasquale” delights

RECOMMENDED

Where: Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive
When: through Dec. 15
Tickets: $32-$239
Phone: 312-332-2244

By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic

Hilarity and hijinks are the watchwords at Lyric Opera of Chicago with the opening of “Don Pasquale.” Donizetti’s silly romp is given zesty treatment and is sure to please any fan of comic opera.

Italian Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, one of opera’s handsomest bass-baritones, sheds his lady-killer image and accepts a transformation into the title character, an oldster lured into a too-good-to-be-true marriage. D’Arcangelo creeps and stumbles about the stage as if he were genuinely decades older than his true age, and sings the vim of a man a decade or two younger. He’s got all the stuff to make this comic role work: secure singing, fine-tuned comic timing and a bouncy approach to the role. The props are great fun, from the pogo-stick-chair in the middle of the opera to the fluffy cat Pasquale receives as a consolation prize when he finally learns that his so-called wife is really destined for life with his nephew. The only thing that betrayed the fact that this is D’Arcangelo’s first foray as Pasquale was his brief loss of the rhythmic thread in “Un foco insolito mi sento addosso” early in the opera.

Marlis Petersen, the German soprano who wowed Lyric audiences a few years ago as Lulu, is pert and perky as Norina, the woman who loves the nephew but enters into a sham marriage with the uncle to teach him a lesson. Her singing is gleaming and her antics are charming.

Tenor René Barbera, a Ryan Center alum, is an alluring Ernesto, singing with flair and confidence in his role debut. His winning smile and natural charm convince you immediately that Norina cannot help but love him.

Another Ryan Center alum rounds out the principal roles, with Corey Crider offering a spirited Dr. Malatesta. He and D’Arcangelo reach comic heights in their duet, “Cheti, cheti, immantinente.”

Ryan Opera Center member Bernard Holcomb does a splendid job in the small but pivotal role of the fake Notary, who leads Pasquale to believe he’s actually married to Norina.

The Lyric Opera Chorus flounces about the stage with confidence, while Stephen Lord leads the orchestra with ease, teasing out the delicious melodies.
Sir Thomas Allen makes his Lyric Opera directorial debut, and his years of singing Dr. Malatesta have served him well, as he is able to keep the action moving, keep the laughs coming, and keep the music at the forefront.

The traditional sets by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle were first seen at Covent Garden in the 1970s, and continue to maintain their charm.