Niagara Gazette

June 27, 2013

Nickel City Opera presents "Don Pasquale" this weekend at Riviera Theatre

By Ed Adamczyk
Night & Day

Night & Day — Western New York’s performing arts world is one busy firmament these days. Theater, concerts and dance abound, which is why the Nickel City Opera’s presentation this weekend of “Don Pasquale” at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda seems both typical and exceptional.

While a portion of the audience will be, as always, experienced opera enthusiasts, this one seems custom-tailored for the novice. If you’ve never attended an opera, the goofy Italian masterpiece “Don Pasquale” in the elegant Riviera, a venue that resembles, it has been pointed out, a European opera house, is a great place to start.

“It’ll be a fun show,” promises artistic director Valerian Ruminski of this three-act opera buffa, or comic opera, by Gaetano Donizetti. “A good first opera, if they have never seen opera.”

The plot turns on an old guy and his ill-advised marriage to a young, hot babe (yes, this sort of thing was a stock theatrical device back in 1842, when the opera was composed). The music is melodic and memorable, and supertitles, above-the-stage running translations from Italian to English, will keep the audience apprised of developments.

More to the point is that we have a busy, thriving, full-scale opera company here in North Tonawanda. This is professional opera, with soloists, sets and scenery, costumes, an orchestra, a chorus — the works. In its fifth season, Nickel City Opera is established to the point of reliably scheduling two performances of opera annually, and assorted concerts, benefits and recitals as well.

Ruminski, the globetrotting basso who plays the title role here, is settling into his performing maturity by actually running an opera company in his hometown, and it is succeeding. This year’s performances are spread over three days instead of two, as in the past.

Of “Don Pasquale”, Ruminski can easily itemize each soloists’ resume.

Benjamin Brecher, a tenor, plays Ernesto, Don Pasquale’s nephew. “He teaches in Santa Barbara, and teaches young artists at Chautauqua. Great facility, a great singer.”

The babe at the center of the conflict is Norina, played by soprano Zulimar Hernandez, a graduate, as is Ruminski, of Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts.

Baritone James Wright, of SUNY Fredonia, is Malatesta, the guy who walks into the fight between uncle and nephew over Norina, and young Nick Kilkenny, the company’s 2013 Artist of the Year, is the notary. The opera includes a chorus of 18 and an orchestra of 16, “highly professional local players”, Ruminski says.

It is a beautiful thing when a local arts organization promises the moon and stars, and then delivers the moon and stars, and Western New York music (and theater) fans have come to expect excellence from the Nickel City Opera.

It should be pointed out the company’s performances, contrary to opera’s image, are not tuxedo and evening gown events. Audience members come as they are; there are couples on dates, aspiring singers, longtime opera fans, the artistically curious. Popcorn and drinks are available.

Those who enjoy opera should be aware the Northtowns is hosting a good one this weekend, in a theater perfect for it. First time opera goer? Start here.

IF YOU GO • WHAT: The Nickel City Opera performs "Don Pasquale", an opera by Gaetano Donizetti • WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday • WHERE: Riviera Theatre, 67 Webster St., North Tonawanda • COST: $24-59 MORE INFORMATION: 692-2413