Over the last seven years, Boston Midsummer Opera has built up a committed following for its performances, which offer classic works in English translation and are sensibly timed for a season of operatic scarcity. This year, BMO artistic director Susan Davenny Wyner has set her sights on “Don Pasquale,” Donizetti’s ageless comedy about aging, love, vanity, and the elaborate ruse played on an old bachelor to secure his blessings for his nephew’s marriage.
As Wyner observes in a program note, Donizetti takes stock characters – beyond Pasquale there is the scheming doctor Malatesta, the lovelorn tenor Ernesto, and the charming coquette Norina – and through his music imbues them with a wealth of subtle and affectionate details, in the process sharpening our attention and eliciting our sympathies. On Wednesday night from the pit of Tsai Performance Center, Wyner led a small orchestra in a performance delightful precisely for its attention to these details. Under her baton the music breathes, lilts, romps, sighs, and sparkles. And despite the occasional moment of drift between stage and pit, Wyner’s sense of this score’s pacing and sweep never faltered.
As it often does, performing Italian opera in English brought the usual tradeoff: dramatic immediacy on the one hand, but a clunky wedding of words and music on the other, especially in Donald Pippin’s less-than-artful translation. Director Austin Pendleton’s production was serviceable if also at times puzzling. He clearly relishes this opera’s humor and effectively frames some of its signature comic moments, but until the third act, the sets and lighting do little to echo the sheer pleasure principle that pulses beneath so much of Donizetti’s score. Little visual details also tend to distract. (Why are most characters in vaguely period dress while Ernesto is in jeans? And how much more touching would it have been if the opera’s two genuine lovers, finally reunited in act three, addressed their rapturous duet, “Tornami a dir che m’ami,” to each other rather than squarely to the audience?)
In the title role, Ricardo Lugo was a resonant and likable Pasquale, even if he sometimes over-milked the old man’s ridiculousness; soprano Leslie Ann Bradley as Norina played up her character’s multiple guises, and nimbly negotiated Donizetti’s geyser-like roulades; the dependable David Kravitz sang and acted well as Malatesta; and the young Alex Richardson showed solid musical instincts and some sweet shadings in his tenor. The BMO production runs through July 29. And coincidentally, another staging of “Don Pasquale” opens at Cape Cod Opera on Aug. 3.