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There's no fun like an old fool

Some theatrical archetypes are truly timeless.

Don Pasquale is beautifully sung
Don Pasquale is beautifully sung

One such is Don Pasquale, the wealthy old misogynist who takes a considerably younger wife in Donizetti's comic opera of 1843.

Indeed, had the great French satirist Molière been Italian, he may well have beaten Donizetti to the Don by almost 200 years, so similar to Pasquale is Arnolphe, the anti-hero of The School For Wives, the Frenchman's hilarious morality play of 1662.

In these days of Ronnie Wood (31 years older than his current wife) and Rupert Murdoch (recently divorced from a spouse 38 years his junior), Donizetti's cautionary tale - in which the hapless Don falls into the trap of a ruinously fake marriage - has an additional piquancy. Indeed, director Renaud Doucet's new production for Scottish Opera, locates the piece in a modern - 1960s - Rome.

Courtesy of designer André Barbe, we find ourselves in the fabulously garish Pensione Pasquale. The comic cartoonism of the set is enhanced by the multitude of ceramic cats (many of them in lurid green) with which the ailurophile Don (who cannot keep real felines, due to an allergy) has adorned his hotel.

When the rich septuagenarian decides to disinherit his nephew, Ernesto, because he will not marry the woman of the Don's choosing, the old man's friend Dr Malatesta hatches a plan to teach the ageing bachelor a lesson. Pasquale duly falls for "Sofronia", who is supposedly Malatesta's domestically inclined and naïve younger sister, recently out of a convent, but is actually Ernesto's beloved Norina on a vengeful mission.

Donizetti's delightfully jaunty score and humorous libretto (co-authored with Giovanni Ruffini) is more than matched by Alfonso Antoniozzi's wonderfully exasperated Pasquale (who often seems on the verge of pulling out what hair he has left) and Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson's bold Norina.

Strong performances, individual and ensemble, and neat comic touches (such as a shuffling, fag-smoking housemaid heaving an impossibly huge laundry above the terrace) add deliciously to a beautifully sung production's over-arching sense of fun.

Don Pasquale transfers to the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, February 18, 20 and 22

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