This Opera Santa Barbara production of Don Pasquale was opera for everyone — an irresistible mix of comedy, great music, and delicious, wholehearted, and endlessly absorbing song. From the opening notes to the closing laughs, the show held together seamlessly, and when Don Pasquale finally forgave the young lovers Ernesto and Norina, his capitulation earned him the biggest laugh of all. This crowning moment reminded us that opera, which must at times embrace tragedy, is at its best when hymning the joys of reconciliation.
Philip Cokorinos was terrific as the production’s lead, handling his many agitated diatribes and inadvertent duets with aplomb. Michael Krzankowski sang beautifully in the role of Doctor Malatesta and brought coherence and pacing to the several scenes in which he acted as a kind of ringmaster to this circus of disguises, love tests, and assignations. Efraín Solís provided a Marx-brothers touch as the notary, and maestro Francesco Milioto coaxed wondrous sounds out of the orchestra. As one half of the loving couple, Javier Abreu sang and acted with humor and soul. His aria at the opening of the garden scene was memorably poignant.
Highest praise, however, should be reserved for the soprano Zulimar López-Hernández, who dazzled in the multifaceted role of Norina/Sophronia. Her transformations from a lover to a shy young woman just out of the convent to a spendthrift shrew and back again were a joy to behold. With this kind of consistency and quality, Opera Santa Barbara looks set to do even greater things in the coming years.