For all the tiresome elements of summer on the Vineyard, in the midst of the fog of summer, we sometimes — even ofttimes — come across exquisite moments that could only happen here on our fabled isle during the high season.
This past Monday brought us a drizzly afternoon as I meandered through lush up-Island woods. I came upon a showcase barn, with garden materials front and center, and a small corral holding two mini-horses, Queenie and Highlight, their small furry faces straining to see what was happening inside the barn. I could have hugged them until the sun went down, but I too was obligated to pay attention to the goings-on within the barn.
A rehearsal was about to begin for Wendy Taucher Dance Opera Theater Co. of New York City and Martha’s Vineyard. This year they’re prepping for the seventh annual gala event at Featherstone Center for the Arts. The season’s showcase over the weekend of July 28, 29, and 30 brings us the popular comic opera “Don Pasquale” by Italian composer Donizetti, which premiered at La Scala, Milan, in April 1843.
Director Wendy patted me to a seat behind her desk. To her left, before a pile of script pages and notebooks, sat Olivia de Geofroy, a senior at Westminster Choir College, filling in as company stage manager.
Two feet away to starboard, music director and longtime company conductor Ed Bak applied himself to the piano with a polish and assurance, as if he’d been pounding out the score for “Don Pasquale” since 1843. Then singers, both baritones, Daniel Scofield and Andrew Bogard, lifted their voices to the top of the barn rafters, and I could feel my jaw dropping and my eyes widening. I’d just purely forgotten that Ms. Taucher enlists star singers from around the world, but to hear them suddenly in a barn in the middle of some random Vineyard woods caused a wonderment beyond reckoning.
Soon tenor Spencer Hamlin and soprano Lisa Williamson added to the thrilling sounds, and when Donizetti’s score had them all belting forth at the same time, I could have passed out from what’s come to be known as a Stendhal moment (Google it: It’s when the senses break down over too much high-art beauty to absorb without fainting, or even dying).
For the upcoming “Don Pasquale,” Ms. Taucher, a noted national choreographer and director with positive reviews from the New York Times, has cleverly pared the opera down to a trim just-over-an-hour length by inserting one of today’s ubiquitous tabloid babes, one Mindy Tashmoo, played by Erika Person. Person, who’s performed multiple times on Island stages, herself has a fabulous contralto voice, though in this particular production she uses it to tease gossip out of the players. By this means we’re able to learn in English what’s going on, although we’re also amply clued in by the singers’ elastically funny facial muscles and pure acting skills, and by Ms. Taucher’s quirky stage directions; an expansive shrug here, a hopscotch jump there, and bodily lifting a character to haul him from stage right to stage left. We comprehend right down to our funny bones where this crazy story is going.
And here’s the crazy story: Ernesto loves Norina, but his rich uncle Pasquale has just disinherited him, leaving the lovelorn kids in need of a lifestyle a few notches above sleeping rough on the beach. The scheming doctor Malatesta tries to help out his pal Ernesto by arranging a fake marriage between Norina, posing as a docile convent girl, and the old gasbag Pasquale. Once they’re phonily married, Norina turns into the wife from hell — think Cruella de Vil on a good day, plus she refuses all advances, until Pasquale is convinced to reinvest in his nephew in return for taking the monster wife off his hands.
Or something to that effect. My Italian’s a little rusty.
It’s all very funny, thanks to Taucher’s delightful touches as a director and to the actor/singers’ great talent, and the lush and lively music. This is the brilliant Donizetti’s comic masterpiece, so rush to see it this weekend. The high white tent and lush meadows of Featherstone make this a perfect venue for a perfect opera.
The gala evening is Friday, July 28, at 6 pm, and it includes the performance followed by supper in the Tilton tents. Performances on Saturday, July 29, and Sunday, July 30, start at 7 pm, rain or shine. Prices range from $35 to $500. Information and tickets at wendytaucherdanceoperatheater.com or by calling 646-872-7249.