The Santa Barbara Grand Opera's production of Gaetano Donizetti's "Don Pasquale" is a delightful romp, set in early 19th century Rome. The action opens in the Don's room. The elegant set has marble walls with mahogony panels and doors. There's a fine wooden table with an ink stand and quill. Malatesta sneaks into the room and hides in a corner, where he establishes an instant connection with the audience. Aram Barsamian is a charismatic Malatesta as he draws you into his plot right at the beginning, with a wink and a gesture he establishes himself as an affable schemer, and the viewer is almost a co-conspirator. Donald Sherrill is Don Pasquale. When we meet him, he's big, but old, bent, and frail. As soon as he learns that he's about to marry Malatesta's young sister, he throws his cane, and skips around the room in delight. As we move to Norina's room in scene 2, we have the same set with different furniture. Sujung Kim's Norina is strong and sensitive, lyrical but capricious, as she lets us know that she knows how to attract and keep her Lover's interest. When Malatesta tells her of his scheme, she wants to know how to act, impetuous, or seductive, stern or lively. He says innocent and naive and as she shoots him this incredulous glance, he says "I'll teach you!" Act 2 opens with a forlorn horn solo to match the mood of Ernesto, who sits brooding at Don Pasquale's table. Now that his uncle is marrying and disinheriting him, he won't be able to marry Norina. After he leaves, Malatesta and the veiled bride to be come to meet the Don. She's the model of modesty, shyness, and humility as she refuses to lift her veil until the end. As soom as they're married, however, she turns immediately into an absolutely domineering shrew. The is where the fun really starts. The Notary who marries them stumbles into the room, falls on his face, gets up, and falls again. Joshua Scheyer spends most of his time ogling Norina and attending to business as an afterthought. Ernesto trys to push his way in the door, but is held back by the servants. He then jumps in the window. Malatesta draws him aside and hastily explains everything. The Lobero stage is filled with servants and merchants delivering allof Norina's new finery and goods, and utter chaos reigns. Carlo Scibelli is a strong steady Ernesto, as he and Norina meet in the garden for the rollicking confusion. For an Opera Company that's only in it's fourth season, in a city the size of Santa Barbara, this is an amazingly strong production. It's all overacted and quite schmaltzy, but that's precisely what makes this production come alive. The cast is strong from top to bottom, and they captivate the audience through their own sheer enjoyment and the fun they are obviously having. Music Director Valery Ryvkin leads this outstanding production of Donizetti's "Don Pasquale" by The Santa Barbara Grand Opera.

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 Last Updated January 8, 1998 by Paul Berenson