Delectable Escapism: Don Pasquale at the Opera Krakowska

Donizetti – Don Pasquale

Don Pasquale – Grzegorz Szostak
Norina – Alexandra Flood
Ernesto – Andrzej Lampert
Malatesta – Mariusz Kwiecień
Notario – Krzysztof Dekański

Balet, Chór i Orkiestra Opera Krakowskiej / Tomasz Tokarczyk
Stage director – Jerzy Stuhr

Opera Krakowska, Kraków, Poland.  Sunday, December 4th, 2016.

On a winter’s night in Kraków, with sub-zero temperatures outside, there really was Italian warmth on the stage of this cozy theatre.  One of the biggest pleasures of visiting this house is its sheer intimacy – the auditorium seats only 800 people – and getting to be so close to the singers is a very special experience.

Grzegorz Szostak, Andrzej Lampert, Alexandra Flood, Mariusz Kwiecień. Photo: © Ryszard Kornecki.

Grzegorz Szostak, Andrzej Lampert, Alexandra Flood, Mariusz Kwiecień. Photo: © Ryszard Kornecki.

I’ll admit straight out that Don Pasquale has never been a favourite opera of mine but tonight I was completely won over by a cast who seemed to be having the time of their lives.  Their energy and enthusiasm were absolutely infectious and the audience responded in kind by offering them whole-hearted ovations after every number.  The staging was the work of Jerzy Stuhr, perhaps Poland’s most distinguished actor, film director and theatre professor.  His long experience showed in personenregie that was detailed and vivid, creating characters who were thoroughly believable and who genuinely engaged with each other.  Furthermore, he moved the chorus around the stage fluently in their brief interjections and even made them into a group of individuals as well as a corporate mass.  Costumes and sets were traditional, the visuals sumptuous, yet despite that, the sheer engagement created by this skilled group of singing-actors made the entire evening come alive.

Mariusz Kwiecień, Grzegorz Szostak © Ryszard Kornecki.

Mariusz Kwiecień, Grzegorz Szostak © Ryszard Kornecki.

Don Pasquale was certainly an overbearing bully and we really rooted for Ernesto to win over him.  Indeed, his glee in telling Ernesto that he was disinherited was all too apparent.  Grzegorz Szostak was larger than life in the title role and fabulously over the top.  He sang in a big, healthy bass with a full, cavernous sound.  Indeed, it was such a pleasure to hear a Pasquale in his vocal prime with lots of voice to give.  His duet with Mariusz Kwiecień’s Malatesta was show-stopping, the patter effortlessly delivered and sung with uninhibited gusto.  We were rewarded with an equally uninhibited encore.

Mariusz Kwiecień, Grzegorz Szostak. Photo: © Ryszard Kornecki.

Mariusz Kwiecień, Grzegorz Szostak. Photo: © Ryszard Kornecki.

Kwiecień’s Malatesta is a known quantity, of course, and this is a role that fits him like a glove.  It shows off everything that’s great in his singing – the Italianate warmth, elegant legato, genuine trill – all were very much present and correct tonight.   Yet the way the voice negotiated the florid writing with such effortless assurance gave much pleasure.  There’s such total command of the role there that one feels absolutely secure in his vocalism and his stage presence was so energetic and engaging, fully bringing out the comedy of the role.  He also sings fully off the text.

Grzegorz Szostak, Andrzej Lampert. Photo: © Ryszard Kornecki.

Grzegorz Szostak, Andrzej Lampert. Photo: © Ryszard Kornecki.

Andrzej Lampert ideally portrayed the lovesick Ernesto.  His repertoire also includes roles as diverse as Tamino, Pinkerton and Lensky.  I’m not quite convinced that this is the fach that he will be staying in but he was absolutely uninhibited in his vocalism.  His is an attractive lyric tenor with a bright top that he shaded quite magically in the serenade making a beautiful diminuendo at the top of the voice.  His musical instincts are good but his legato is somewhat lumpy with quite a few aspirates entering the line.  It’s a nice voice and his impassioned delivery of the opening of Act 2 gave much pleasure.  Certainly a singer I’d like to hear again.

Grzegorz Szostak, Alexandra Flood, Mariusz Kwiecień. Photo: © Ryszard Kornecki.

Grzegorz Szostak, Alexandra Flood, Mariusz Kwiecień. Photo: © Ryszard Kornecki.

Alexandra Flood’s Norina was certainly vivacious and she camped it up quite deliciously as Sofronia bringing home all her shopping.  She has a middle of complex warmth, quite fruity but also full-bodied.  The top does taper off and become quite metallic though.  The voice doesn’t have much cutting power and she had a tendency to be lost in the ensembles though she pulled out some bright and powerful acuti when necessary.  Her coloratura is impeccable – nicely clean and pristine though she does, as yet, lack a genuine trill.  The Australian soprano is still very young and this is clearly a voice that is still developing.  There’s already much that is good there.

Andrzej Lampert, Alexandra Flood, Mariusz Kwiecień, Grzegorz Szostak. Photo: © Ryszard Kornecki.

Andrzej Lampert, Alexandra Flood, Mariusz Kwiecień, Grzegorz Szostak. Photo: © Ryszard Kornecki.

The chorus, in their brief interjections, was excellent.  No unfortunate war of vibratos here just fresh, youthful and theatre-filling tone.  The success of the evening was also due to Tomasz Tokarczyk’s excellent conducting.  He clearly loves the work, phrasing it with elegance and affection, yet also never allowing it to flag.  It was paced to perfection.  Tempi were nicely springy with an eloquent use of rubato.  The evening scintillated and the support from the pit allowed the cast to bring the story to life.  The orchestra played well for him – the principal trumpet especially playing with elegance and beauty.  String intonation was good.

Ensemble. Photo: © Ryszard Kornecki.

Ensemble. Photo: © Ryszard Kornecki.

Tonight there was an energy in the theatre that shone across the footlights and really brought the audience in.  We were rewarded with a musical performance of a quality that would grace any international house and indeed was more satisfying that some I’ve seen at those addresses.  In these dark days for humanity this really was the escapism that was needed and I most certainly left the theatre uplifted thanks to the work of a group of such engaging singing-actors.  It was certainly well directed and conducted with real imagination.  This was a fabulous evening in the theatre and really showed this delightful house at its very best.

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