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Review: Opera Santa Barbara Presents DON PASQUALE at Ventura County Fairgrounds

Gorgeous music and fine acting come to the Ventura County Fairgrounds Drive-In Opera Site.

Review: Opera Santa Barbara Presents DON PASQUALE at Ventura County Fairgrounds On Saturday evening, April 10, 2021, Opera Santa Barbara presented Gaetano Donizetti's comedy Don Pasquale, the season opener for the Concerts in Your Car series at California's Ventura County Fairgrounds. Following the State's guidelines, attendees were able to enjoy a live stage performance from the safety and comfort of their vehicles or from their own chairs next to their vehicles, while wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing. The presentation included a light show and multimedia entertainment across video jumbo screens. Sound came through the car FM radio. The opera was sung in Italian with English translations projected on screen.

The opera was staged at the fairgrounds since in-theater performances were not allowed due to COVID-19 danger. The Ventura property is a gorgeous piece of land bordering the Pacific Ocean. It allowed opera goers to celebrate both the glories of opera and the unparalleled beauty of the open sea before the show. The last time I attended opera at the shore was at a theater on the boardwalk in Asbury Park, New Jersey, where patrons could watch the waves in intermission. Unfortunately, no intermissions were allowed by COVID guidelines, but my party watched white-crested waves role into California from Hawaii while waiting to park in our assigned space.

In Josh Shaw's staging, Don Pasquale is a most amusing comedy, broadly played by fine singing actors who looked their parts. The Don became elderly movie mogul, Donald J. Pasquale of Flying P Studios. Although he was a prominent leader of the Santa Barbara silent film business in the early 1920s, by 1926 Pasquale's popularity was waning with the onset of talking pictures. The costumes set the time as the Jazz Age. At the beginning of the opera, Don Pasquale puts on a vest that has become too small for him without realizing that he split it down the back when he buttoned it. Norina's beaded red gown and white coat added much to the visual beauty of the production. The show's English titles were originally written by George Hall of Glyndebourne Opera, but Opera Santa Barbara's audience saw them with more than a few well-placed updates by Josh Shaw.

Coloratura soprano Jana McIntyre, basso buffo Andrew Potter, and Bel Canto tenor Matthew Grills made their Opera Santa Barbara debuts entertaining the parked public with Donizetti's unforgettable melodies. This is an opera that leaves the audience singing numerous tunes, some merely joyous and others full of heartfelt emotion.

As the brazen Sofronia, McIntyre was mesmerizing with blazing coloratura and a secure, even trill. Later, as the sensuous but penniless actress, Norina, she won Ernesto's heart as well as an enormous cacophony of honking horns and blinking lights for her solo bow. Tenor Matthew Grills was a vocally pleasing Ernesto who created a recognizable character.

Former OSB Studio Artist baritone, Efraín Solís, who has since played Charlie in Jake Heggie's Three Decembers at Opera San Jose, returned to play the cagey Dr. Malatesta, the medical man who cooks up the trick that allows Ernesto to marry Norina. Solis and bass Andrew Potter as Pasquale seemed to be having oodles of fun trying to outdo each other with fast vocal patter. OSB Artistic and General Director Kostis Protopapas led COVID-shielded members of the OSB Orchestra in a rollicking rendition of Donizetti's tuneful score.

This was the performance of an infrequently heard exquisite masterwork in a seaside parking lot. I hope that Opera Santa Barbara will consider having outdoor opera continue at this venue again when performances are allowed to have intermissions and the rolling, foam-topped waves can be a part of the evening's entertainment.