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Reviews of Don Pasquale, Irish National Opera 2022-23

Before the premiere, Donizetti knew success would depend on factors beyond his brilliant score and the funny libretto. And it is these same factors that INO nails in 2022. All of them click. Director Orpha Phelan opens a direct channel to laughter by updating the story to the present day. Her 21st-century audience need invest no effort in cultural translation from Donizetti’s 19th century – they get everything instantly and respond with laughter. Arguing that “people are never quite what they seem,” Phelan moves the story to the premises of a well-to-do plastic surgeon, the idea brought vividly to life by Nicky Shaw’s contemporary sets and costumes and the soft-focus lighting of Matt Haskins.

Michael Dungan, Irish Times

Phelan’s Successful Direction Has The Audience Smiling, Laughing & Cheering Out Loud!

Not a small amount of the credit for the success must go down to the director Orpha Phelan, whose masterful handling of the work ensured that the comedic potential of the libretto was fully developed. By chance of circumstance, this is the second production by Phelan to have been reviewed by OperaWire in the past few weeks. She also directed Wexford Festival Opera’s successful presentation of Lalla Roukh which again showed off her talent for comedy to good effect. For both productions, Phelan’s staging displayed a clear vision, overall coherence, attention to detail and a tendency towards bold decision-making. For this production of Don Pasquale, she landed on the idea of having Dr. Malatesta adopt the role of a plastic surgeon and of using his surgery as a backdrop for the drama. Not only did this allow for a raft of gags, such as having boxes of viagra and silicon implants piled up in a corner, but it also created an environment in which comical and absurd narcissistic and egotistic tendencies could be given full reign. Don Pasquale’s appointment for a cosmetic makeover, therefore, proved an ideal way of getting the ball rolling. 

Phelan’s interpretation focussed on exploiting the situations to ramp up the comedy with plenty of movement and slapstick. And it all worked brilliantly. The audience lapped it up, laughing out loud throughout the show.

Overall, this was a wonderful production that captured the fun at the heart of the work. Even with a mindset that was determined not to enjoy this production, it would have been impossible to hold back the laughter. It was great fun. Moreover, it has been superbly constructed so that even with a small orchestra and chorus, perfect for touring while keeping costs down, it did not compromise the audience’s enjoyment at all

Alan Neilson, Operawire

Donizetti’s comic story of love, cruelty, conceit and age is transported to the modern day in director Orpha Phelan’s canny staging, designed by Nicky Shaw. Here, Dr Malatesta is a successful cosmetic surgeon, turning ugly ducklings into swans as the overture plays. His next patient is the titular Don.

Alan O'Riordan, Irish Examiner

We know we are in excellent hands from the off: Donizetti’s mischievous overture is accompanied by a wonderful mime drama in the reception area of Dr Malatesta’s busy plastic surgery. The music may be from 1842 but the sensibility is right now. It’s all very ageist and sexist and it’s all very funny. Director Orpha Phelan wisely leaves moralising at the door and Botoxes the comedy. Every moment on the stage is perfectly considered with lots of detailed funny business. Simple but highly effective TikTok-type choreography ramps up the fun.

Katy Hayes, The Irish Independent


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