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Don Pasquale review at Riverfront, Newport – ‘a gleefully anarchic production’

Quirjin de Lang and Hattiet Eyley in Welsh National Opera's Don Pasquale. Photo: Robert Workman
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“What’s occurrin’?” Director-librettist Daisy Evans brings a Barry Island vernacular style to her gleefully anarchic production for Welsh National Opera.

She and musical director-arranger Stephen Higgins have carved a 21st-century, farcical eco-romance from Donizetti’s celebrated opera buffa. It’s a crazily off-kilter, small-scale adaptation, that still manages to honour the opera’s warmth and moments of pathos.

Pasquale is an ageing doner-and-chips kebab van owner (Andrew Shore, in wonderfully comic, Italian-Welsh mode). He vows to marry rather than leave the business to his pop star-wannabe nephew, Ernesto (a superb, moonwalking Nico Darmanin) and vegan hipster girlfriend, Norina (Harriet Eyley). Enter Malatesta – played as a mysterious, gender-fluid goth rocker by a sexily strutting Quirijn de Lang – who sets in train a plot to outsmart him.

Fast-food hilarity ensues, with affectionate send-ups of everything from pop idols to rugby fan daffodil hats to extortionate kale smoothies. There are clever nods to TV’s Gavin and Stacey and an opera-VIP appearance via Skype that steals the show.

Designed and lit by Loren Elstein and Jake Wiltshire, the compact set features a grotty kebab van with overflowing bins. Sitting alongside – and participating in the action – an excellent seven-piece band performs Higgins’ winning arrangement of the score, with its streetwise sax, accordion and flugelhorn (beautifully played by Angela Whelan).

There are occasional dips in energy towards the close but words and voices remain sharply focused. The final message, “The Millennials have won”, contains the serious plea that we all – old men included – ditch the old ways for new, and go green to save the planet.

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Anarchic wit prevails in Welsh National Opera’s adaptation of Donizetti's opera