UNL Opera presented Donizetti's comic opera "Don Pasquale" Saturday evening to a right-sized crowd at Kimball Recital Hall. The production was directed by William Shomos -- who also played the lead role of Don Pasquale -- while the all-student orchestra was conducted by Tyler White. Strong vocal performances were evident throughout the night by master's degree student Arica Coleman as “Norina,” and doctoral students Alfonzo Cooper, Jr. and Jared Hiscock as “Ernesto” and “Dr. Malatesta,” respectively.
Shomos made a bold decision to stage the production as an American Western as opposed to the traditional setting in early 19th century Rome. The hacienda set designed by graduate student Jessica Thompson -- paired with clever costuming -- really captured the Spanish essence of the Wild West.
Overall, the acting was superb, as was some of the incredibly fast virtuosic singing with impeccably clear diction. One example of this was the clarity, agility, (and hilarity) of "Aspetta, aspetta, cara sposina" in Act III. Other comedic moments were aplenty, although there were often long pauses between humorous moments which left us wanting more. The entire ensemble joined together for the finale of the opera, the moral of which warns “not to marry in old age.”
Opera purists might dismiss the unorthodox production, but the hacienda theme didn’t detract from the overall drama. In Shomos’ defense, Donizetti called for the rare use of guitars in the original orchestral score (emulated by strumming in the strings in this production) which contributed to the country-western feel. In addition, the Western theme highlighted many of the comic and even ironic elements of the opera.
The audience approved, rewarding the cast with a raucous standing ovation.
The reviewer concurs, and offers felicitations to the entire cast, instrumentalists, and crew--a valiant example of how to keep traditional opera fresh, relevant, and relatable in the 21st century.