Which composer would be more insulted by the suggestion that Donizetti was the Lloyd Webber of his day? For in 1840s the Italian composer had no less than four operas running simultaneously in Paris. Berlioz was not the only French composer to complain bitterly.
In 1843 the success of the Don was the crowning success of Donizetti's career, his sixty-eighth opera. There were only two more to come, for his mental and physical health deteriorated rapidly; he died in '48 at the early age of fifty. He must have been a workaholic because for long periods he composed an average of five operas a year.
His reputation has suffered somewhat by comparison with Rossini and Verdi, some think undeservedly, for he was a master of both the comic and tragic genres; of form, dramatic pace and melody. Your Hundred Best Tunes surely contains a plethora and melody, at least a dozen, in Don Pasquale.
So it was good that Opera Holland Park opened its 2011 season with the Don, a season that will continue with chestnuts Figaro and Rigoletto but, as usual for this house, also some out of the way works: Puccini's La Rondine, Mascagni's L'Amico Fritz and, wow!, Catalani's La Wally. Enterprising indeed.
Don Pasquale was in good hands; in the pit Richard Bonynge, lively and well-paced in the pit with the City of London Sinfonia; and on the stage in the title-role Donald Maxwell, ever the consummate professional, master of comic timing, character portrayal and fine singing. This is the familiar plot of an old duffer who marries a placid young girl who turns harridan as soon as the marriage contract is signed. In this opera Norina is by no means the demure nun she seems but a schemer who wants to marry the duffer's nephew – a tenor, wouldn't you know it? That fine soprano from Cork, Majella Cullagh, showed a lovely voice, a burly chassis, a sure handling of vocal pyrotechnics and she fizzed like a dose of Eno's.
South African tenor Colin Lee, was in fine form as lover Ernesto and Richard Burkhard shone likewise as the Don's pal Dr. Malatesta, a party to the fake nun plot.
In spite of being sung in Italian, the general atmosphere of Stephen Barlow's bright production was that of an old-fashioned pantomime but a good time was had by all.
Holland Park's stage is wide but shallow and there is no pit, the band is on the flat; and there are no side walls in the auditorium so if the evening is chilly, take a rug.