Enchanted by Bel-Canto

It is not until the current issue of Forum that we describe Opera Circle’s performances on November 20 and 22 of 2009. We hope that this tardiness will be forgiven by the directors of the Opera and the faithful public that came to the Bohemian National Hall, where the performances of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale took place.

In November, we had the pleasure of participating in two spectacles: in the previously described tragedy Romeo & Juliet by Vincenzo Bellini and in the most recently presented Don Pasquale. Both operas, despite their differing content, come from the same time period—the beginning of the 19th century, when the style of bel canto first appeared in European music. It did not last long, subsequently replaced by a new type of creative movement called verismo. In music, as in literature, artistic tastes change constantly. That which is new is undertaken by writers, composers, and representatives of other branches of the arts, and the public most often accepted these changes.

Bel canto, which literally means “beautiful singing,” focused first and foremost on the melodic aspect of music. It appeared in Italy in the years 1830-1840 and was mirrored by romanticism in literature. It introduced short dance-like rhythms into the world of opera, which shifted in accordance with the plot, in turn dramatic or lyrical. It also allowed for a certain freedom on the part of the singers, even venturing into improvisation, which had not always been accepted by composers.
Let us then return to the production of DonPasquale. This opera is a comedy, and despite the fact that the plot bears nothing particularly original, it is nevertheless lively, simple, clear, and engaging. This aids in achieving the ideal balance of word and music. Indeed, Don Pasquale is one of Donizetti’s finest works. It was written towards the end of the composer’s life, as the last work of an experienced master who had produced already some fifty operas. It is regarded as a gem of grace and carefree humor. Artist and audience alike succumb to its charming joyfulness to such an extent that it is difficult to believe that Donizetti wrote the work in a mere eleven days.

Don Pasquale enchants us with typically Italian music combined with a French finesse. Opera Circle’s presentation of this charming musical narrative featured Ray Liddle in the title role, tricked by three others in cahoots; Timothy Culver as his nephew Ernesto; James Love as the chief instigator of antics, Dr. Malatesta; and Dorota Sobieska as Norina, the object of both Pasquale’s and Ernesto’s matrimonial ambitions. The singers were accompanied by the Cleveland Women’s Orchestra under the direction of Robert L. Cronquist.

The audience, meanwhile, listened enthralled, and upon leaving, hoped for more such months as November of 2009, in which Opera Circle presented two premieres. We extend a special gesture of appreciation to directors Dorota and Jacek Sobieski, as well as to Wanda, Aleksandra, and Julian Sobieski, who also took part in the performances.

Elżbieta Ulanowska
Translated by Wanda Sobieski

Forum, 1/2010