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Brava! Opera presents 'Don Pasquale'

Brava! Opera's Southern Oregon debut of Gaetano Donizetti's 1843 comic opera "Don Pasquale" centers on the talents of four virtuosic singers.

Bass Aaron Sorensen, baritone Patrick McNally, tenor David Walton and soprano Lindsay Ohse promise to bring sparkle to Donizetti's comedic masterpiece with its hilarious plot and lofty music. The singers hail from Connecticut, Minneapolis and New York City, and they perform internationally.

The singers portray the penny-pinching Don Pasquale, who would force his nephew Ernesto to marry for money, the underhanded Dr. Malatesta, and young lovers Ernesto and Norina.

"The characters are full-blooded and well-developed," says Martin Majkut, who conducts Brava! Opera's production. "They're not just caricatures. First and foremost, an opera such as this is carried by its singers, and the four leads are as accomplished as they are good actors and ensemble players. The piece is full of action, and the singers are able to play off the energy of others.

"The orchestra and choir are there to serve as a vehicle for the singers to shine and move the action," Majkut says. "The four of them will carry the show beautifully. What audiences will see is a plethora of beautiful melodies and arias, with an orchestra that does not compete for attention."

Italian composer Donizetti's comic opera buffa will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday, March 17, and 3 p.m. Sunday, March 19, at the Mountain Avenue Theatre on the Ashland High School campus, 201 S. Mountain Ave. Directed by Willene Gunn, this fully staged opera will be performed in English. Tickets are $35, $15 for students and can be purchased at bravaopera.com or by calling 800-901-7173, ext. 3.

Along with professional singers Sorensen, NcNally, Walton and Ohse, there will be a quartet made up of soloists Jennifer Matsuura (soprano), Michelle Cipollone (mezzo-soprano), Craig Blackard (tenor) and Michael Wing (baritone) — supported by an orchestra of 10 musicians.

"We've added more musicians to the orchestra for this production," Majkut says. "So the show has been moved to Ashland High School's theater because it has a large orchestra pit that can fit more musicians."

Look for Karen Basin on bassoon, Lori Calhoun on clarinet, Lisa Trulove on cello, David Miller on double bass, Katheryn McElrath on flute, Jenifer Carstensen on French horn, Bruce Dresser on trumpet, Scott Cole on first violin, Abby Long on second violin and Kimberly Fitch on viola.

There's intrigue in the opera, but the storyline is not quite so black and white, Majkut adds.

The core element in the opera is a love story, writes Gunn in her director's notes. Two young people deeply in love, being kept apart by a wealthy grumpy controlling and opinionated old man.

"I have directed 'Don Pasquale' several times," she writes, "and as I prepared it this time, I was struck by the timeless element of the story. Love after all, is love. Friendship is friendship, and winning against a controlling personality is always a happy thing. Believing there was no reason to approach the opera as a period piece, I moved the story from 1843 in Italy to 2017 in Ashland. Norina became an out-of-work actress; Ernesto a young man who lives off his wealthy uncle; Malatesta a new age positive thinking therapist; and Don Pasquale a wealthy, retired controlling and rather silly old man."

Gunn reduced the 25-voice chorus to a quartet. As those roles evolved, they became part of the story. The costumes, set and look of the show is different from that of 1843, but the story of two young people determined to be together maintains its humor with the conflict their desire causes, the clever machinations of their friend Malatesta, and the opportunity for Norina to make a fool of Pasquale.

Set design and technical direction is by Doug Ham, costumes by Cassandra del Nero, wigs by Virginia Carol Hudson, lighting design by Bob Peterson, and choreography is by Suzanne Seiber.