Bel Cantanti Opera's 'Don Pasquale' at the Olney Theater Center for the Arts

Monday, March 9, 2009; 6:50 PM

What a treat for Bel Cantanti Opera's young singers: doing "Don Pasquale" with François Loup, a top-notch buffo bass-baritone. And what a treat for the audience on Sunday afternoon at the Olney Theater Center for the Arts: Loup also stage-directed, creating a fast-moving blend of visual fun and delightful music.

There is nothing profound in the plot of an old bachelor who gets his comeuppance after deciding to marry. But Donizetti's music takes the high jinks well beyond their commedia dell'arte origins as it bustles from ensemble to ensemble -- there are only two standard arias in the opera.

Loup emphasized constant movement and numerous cute touches, and if his voice is not quite as resonant as it used to be, his musicality is excellent and his characterization of the doddering Pasquale was finely nuanced.

The production's vocal star was Meghan McCall, a Norina of bright flirtatiousness and delicious comic timing. Her entrance aria, "So anch'io la virtù magica," had the flair and sparkle of operetta, and her transformation from innocent to harridan was wonderfully pointed.

As Pasquale's nephew and Norina's lover, Ernesto, Adam Hall got the emotion right -- notably in "Cercherò lontana terra" -- but sounded thin and strained in his upper range.

Eric Christopher Black was a fine, full-voiced Dr. Malatesta with a good sense of physical comedy. The music was supplied by Artistic Director Katerina Souvorova at the piano and four string players (a fifth, the cellist, was ill on Sunday). The staging worked well, especially a flippable portrait with Pasquale on one side and Norina on the other. The spirited performance repeats Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

-- Mark J. Estren

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