To read reviews, click on items in the left-hand column.
The last act of Giacomo Puccini’s Manon Lescaut (1893) – his first hit, which launched Minnesota Opera’s new season Saturday at the Ordway – has gotten a lot of bad press. ‘The biggest dramatic blunder of all,’ declared one critic. ‘A single mood, a single colour, no spectacle … no contrast,’ complained another. Minnesota Opera’s thoughtfully traditionalist staging of John Pascoe’s production for Washington National Opera, should quiet the naysayers. It rehabilitates the ending, situating it in a bleak dreamscape – a wilderness of the mind, strewn with broken relics of the lovers’ past.This works.
While I could speak at length to the talent of the musicians, it was the work of the artistic staff that took my breath away. The set, lighting, and costumes were gorgeous. Within the story, the multiple settings were often starkly contrasting, whether it were the beautiful home of Geronte or the barren desert of Louisiana. The set design maintained a common theme while beautifully expressing each location.
A lovely touch was the subtle use of mirrors in Geronte’s home as a representation of Manon’s vanity. The use of projection was also a notable feature. Text was projected on to, essentially, a giant piece of parchment, allowing for the story to continue between set changes.
Visually, this production was beautiful and engaging, serving as a continuation of the story being told on stage.
Don’t miss Manon Lescaut!
The John Pascoe production is handsome, with sumptuous, towering set and ornate costumes.
John Pascoe’s stage direction smartly italicises the melodrama. Pascoe’s production designs keep giving, especially on hi-definition DVD. Stony battlements cast film noir dark shadows over the Venetian piazza steps that are almost a runway for droll black-leather, gold and silvery Satyricon couture.
Washington National Opera’s revival of John Pascoe’s production of Manon Lescaut, Puccini’s passionate opera, had a thrilling opening tonight at the Kennedy Center. Patricia Racette triumphed in her role debut as the doomed heroine Manon, in a production that is not to be missed.
Yet it is not solely through the skill of the singers that Manon Lescaut was so powerful and moving. Director, set designer, and costume designer John Pascoe’s innovative vision of Manon comes to life with lush, detailed sets and costumes that enhance and support the emotions onstage. We are constantly reminded of the impending tragedy by the ever-present guillotine blade hanging over the stage, a surprisingly effective touch.
The pastoral, almost impressionistic set of the first act was contrasted very strikingly with the harsh, cold palace set of the second act. Likewise, the simple, girlish costume Manon wears at the beginning contrasts greatly with the splendid, almost gaudy gown she wears as a courtesan, and, while Racette wears both well, the audience cannot help but realize how much more elegant the first gown was. The effeminate costumes of the Geronte versus the uncomplicated costumes of des Grieux also serve to underscore the great differences between the two characters.
Washington National Opera is more than equal to the task of bringing Manon Lescaut to the stage in a relevant, exciting, and beautiful way.
… In the second act, a massive column opens like a giant jewellery box to reveal the quintessential material girl in a glittering gown, worldly as Jessica Chastain on the Oscar runway. Behind her, spread across the entire back of the stage, is a painted Baroque sky of swirling clouds and cherubic putti. Oh Man, oh Manon!
To make manifest the story-telling aspects of this opera, based on a racy novel, director John Pascoe frames each act using a floor-to-flies ‘book’ on which is projected key plot points of text. The ‘book’ then gets torn asunder and slid off to either side of the stage to become rocky outcrops or various prison walls in Manon’s life.
Director and designer Pascoe has delicious fun with the four settings and worlds of Manon, not so much treating them as geography but capturing the mood of each place (act) with a distinct palette of color and tone that reflects the inner emotional landscape of the central character. His choices become bolder and ever more successful with every act.
Lighting designer Ruth Hutson worked gorgeously with Pascoe’s ideas and lit the worlds with such effect I felt like gasping at the unveiling of each chapter in Manon’s life. For the first act the greeny-gold light of the market place outside the inn evolved slowly to a deep evening blue and starry night as Manon’s fancies turn to romance.
Act II featured a sumptuous 17th-century palace, a glittering but cold place. Hutson and Pascoe for the next act took their palette from Northern European painters and light to capture the rainy day and the dirty grime of Le Havre harbor. In Act IV, the red of the backdrop evoked a cross between a Wagnerian landscape and a scene from Bonfire of the Vanities. All the former pedestals and columns used in the show could be recognized but now lay broken on their sides, the wreckage of an imploded civilization.
The set, designed by director John Pascoe, who also designed the show’s costumes, easily keeps pace with the broad range of settings, from opulent and lavish apartments to deserted wastelands. His transformative set pieces magically move from one scene into the next without any loss of reality. The use of the page torn from Des Grieux’s writing as a bookend between chapters is a brilliant way to give the story consistency between a whirlwind of changes.
Similarly, the costumes, from Manon’s virginal blue frock to her dazzling ball gown give the audience important clues to how she is changing inside.
Director John Pascoe has staged most of the production in traditional fashion, with dazzling period costumes and wigs. His principal design conceit is giant leaves in which audiences can read pages from the novel – an indication, if you haven’t read the book, that Abbé Prévost writes in a style perfect for the creation of operas – super-charged poetically and emotionally. It’s a conceit that grounds the production when it needs to be.
[…] It was a nice touch to have the Act IV desert a red-baked hellscape, with exploded fragments of the boudoir scene in Act II littering the bare stage. […]
The Washington National Opera stages a resounding revival of one of Puccini’s great works. Director John Pascoe’s staging is traditional, the costumes appropriate to the 18th-century setting, but there’s nothing wrong with adhering to tradition when it’s done so effectively.
From the stage direction to the gorgeous sets to the clever use of lighting (conjuring up the magic of a starry night, the warmth of daybreak, the desolation of a new world wilderness) – not to mention the rapturous singing – this might be the most completely satisfying performance I’ve seen in Washington this season.
I have written about what I regard as the insightful staging of difficult works by stage director and set and costume designer John Pascoe … Therefore, it should not be a surprise that I found the Washington National Opera performance of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut to be an exciting evening that brilliantly displayed the virtues of this rather under-appreciated masterpiece. I recommend this production and cast unreservedly.
John Pascoe’s intelligently conceived 2004 production of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut returned nine years later to the Washington National Opera for its first revival at the Kennedy Center. John Pascoe follows in the tradition of the great 20th-century production designers responsible for conceptualizing the staging, designing the sets and costumes and directing the performers in the operas he assays. Three of Pascoe’s most successful productions are associated with the Washington National Opera.
He has made an invaluable contribution to the reputation of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia through his ingenious staging of this potentially difficult masterwork. I recently reported on his hip Don Giovanni. If his Mozart hints at his admiration of aspects of pop culture, his Manon Lescaut manifests his encyclopedic knowledge of European cultural history.
For his Manon Lescaut Pascoe employs history-inspired details enveloped in surreality. The details of the Inn at Amiens, and the quay in which the sentenced women are collected for exile suggest careful study of 18th-century venues. (Pascoe’s device of granting each of the exiles a moment of farewell with their loved ones is yet another example of how Pascoe’s unconventional staging can resolve an inherent confusion in the libretto – how is it that only Des Grieux and Lescaut have enough money to bribe the guards to allow a few moments alone?)
In contrast, in the second act in Geronte’s lavish apartments and the fourth act in an imaginary Louisiana wilderness, Pascoe creates first a dreamworld of ancien régime excess and then a wasteland nightmare where bits of the second act’s furnishings reappear as broken débris in French America.
Throughout the opera, Pascoe employs a technique that helps bring a unity to the four scenes that Puccini mined from the Abbé Prévost’s great 18th-century series of novels. The forestage is backed by the representation of pages of Prévost’s manuscript on a backwall that, from time to time, splits apart along a jagged vertical line, opening to the four main scenes – the Inn, Geronte’s apartments, the quay, and the wilderness.
In another brilliant stroke, the famous Intermezzo that occurs at the beginning of the third act is moved to that act’s end. The third and fourth acts are thereby combined with the Intermezzo (which, after all, includes music that is both reminiscent of the third act and foreshadowing of the fourth) providing a continuity between two powerful scenes.
During the Intermezzo, the audience experiences the waves of the open sea, as Manon and Des Grieux sail on to America, an effect that Puccini himself – the creator of the extraordinary transition of scenes in the final act of Madama Butterfly – might have found absorbing.
Manon Lescaut is based on a novel by Abbé Prévost, and director John Pascoe wisely chooses to remind the audience continually of the inspiration for the opera. Despite the plot’s many unrealistic events, the fact that Pascoe frames the opera within the structure of a book helps keep Manon Lescaut credible.
The Washington National Opera production is uncommonly lavish for our current, budget-pinched times. The decadent sets and lush costume designs of John Pascoe, who also directs the current production, are what grand opera is meant to be: a brilliant, visual, period spectacle made memorable by fabulous music and elegant singing. This production boasts all of the above.
The revival of John Pascoe’s production that premièred at the Washington National Opera back in 2004 did not disappoint. Pascoe’s stylish creation boasted everything a compelling traditional opera production can offer. Thanks to the dynamic team of well-matched artists the production has become a real hit. Pascoe’s production is a definite must-see event of the season.
The WNO production abounds in breathtaking sets and costuming – maybe the best anywhere currently on a D.C. stage. Credit British import John Pascoe for the effect: the production’s director was both set and costume designer. That explains the singular effect of his work.
He begins on the page, literally – in an enlarged scroll onto which projected text sets the scenes (as if the audience isn’t already given all that information and more in their programs). After the page has done its work at the start of the three acts, it splits apart to show the meticulous sets. Still, the jagged edges of the page never go away, giving some shape to the scenes at their edges, with often another diagonal atop the scenes giving an interesting proscenium space.
Working with a pair of angled mirrors stage right, Pascoe creates the busy town square of Amiens that subtly changes in Ruth Hutson’s lighting design from the bright of the afternoon to the richness of dusk, and finally to the twinkle of evening, where stars emerge in the sky to echo the flicker of lanterns placed on the prominent staircase of the inn.
Onto the scene are more than two dozen people at a time, grouped, color-coordinated, and presented in a tableaux, as if in a Breugel painting.
The lavish palace of Geronte is a wonder as well, dominated by a large cabinet, in which Manon herself appears at one point, amid the tiaras and jewels she loves so well. The surrounding interior is full of rococo cupids and clouds, also multiplied by the mirrors.
The bleak dock scene in Act III is a contrast to all before it as is the red-tinged setting for their American escape.
La Washington National Opera ha inaugurato la stagione di primavera del 2013 con il revival della sontuosa produzione di Manon Lescaut diretta da John Pascoe e condotta dal direttore musicale Philippe Auguin.
Una produzione sontuosa ed allo stesso tempo dinamica con scenografie che trasportano lo spettatore nel periodo storico in cui si svolge con ambienti, colori e coreografie che trasmettono le emozioni dell’amore epico di Manon e des Grieux. Particolarmente interessanti i costumi che hanno caratterizzato l’ epoca di grandi differenze sociali in una cornice che ha accompagnato un cast d’eccezione.
If there is an unequivocal argument for continuing to produce big classical opera as part of Washington National Opera’s mission, then Pascoe’s production of Don Giovanni makes the case. I for one, would not have wanted to miss one note or moment.
This production, directed by British director John Pascoe, gets about everything ‘just right’. It helps that this man is a triple threat. He also designed the sets and costumes for the production.
Despite there rarely being adequate rehearsal time to stage opera, there seems to be a coherence to this Don Giovanni that allows the whole production to gel beautifully.
The energy and physicality of each character, and the defining staging given to them was believable from the first moment through to the last. Everyone on stage nailed an easily identifiable personage.
Pascoe knew what he wanted to get across with this story and these people. And he did.
Pascoe’s production – which I missed the first time around – isn’t boring!
‘Any director who cares enough about an opera to make a real story out of it, rather than just moving singers around the stage, gets sympathy from me, and Pascoe had good ideas, notably the palpable attraction between Giovanni and Donna Elvira.’
Right now, there’s still time to see the Washington National Opera Company’s superb, bracing production of Don Giovanni and it’s really, really worth it, whether you’ve seen it a hundred times or never, whether you’ve got all the time in the world or the clock is running out.
‘What we’re offered at the Opera House is a palette of complications paced close to perfection by director John Pascoe, who’s also provide the oversized sets and the costumes, set in Franco’s Spain, but here and there mixing it up with Mozart’s time.
He puts you right in the action – and there is a lot of action.’
Tragedy, comedy, melodrama, farce. They’re highlighted in John Pascoe’s stunning production of Don Giovanni at the Washington National Opera. But Pascoe also emphasizes a subtler dimension: the context of Giovanni’s life, using Mozart’s music to deepen the central narrative.
Don Giovanni is presented in a revival of the 2007 John Pascoe production, which looks simultaneously elegant and hip, complemented by imaginative costumes that give off a time-traveling hint of a Doctor Who episode.
Some of Pascoe’s stage pictures – a moody church scene, for example – are as enchanting in their own way as the music.
What helps it all click is that Pascoe knows how to get a cast uniformly not just into character, but into the essence of an opera. He also knows how to keep an opera entertaining – not at all an inappropriate gift, I’d say.
Meagan Miller’s Donna Anna, to begin with, looks fabulous in some of Pascoe’s most elegant costumes (one of her hats would be quite a hit at Ascot).
A freshly absorbing encounter with one of the most familiar works in the repertoire.
Director and set designer John Pascoe managed to stage a world of fantasy in which this opera unfolds. Pascoe continues his brilliance with the ghastly cemetery late in Act II.
The eight principal performers become so engaged and engrossed in the emotions of their arias, serenades, and laments that for moments you almost forget they are singing in Italian: the raw emotion of their passions flowing through that readily.
Director John Pascoe added interesting touches. I have never seen a baby in Don Giovanni before, for example, but there’s Donna Elvira, one of the Don’s former conquests, showing up with one in her first scene in the piazza.
This cleverly shows the consequences – the incarnation, let us say – of the Don’s actions.
1 The complete Francesca Zambello production of Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelungs
2 The imported John Pascoe production of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia
3 Sir Nicolas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes.
The John Pascoe production of Donizetti’s operatic adaptation of Victor Hugo’s play, was used for Lucrezia’s first appearance ever at the San Francisco Opera. The opera was the vehicle for the return of Renée Fleming, who has been absent from San Francisco operatic productions for over a decade.
The result of a collaboration between Fleming and Pascoe which had evolved over several years of discussion, Pascoe’s conceptualization of Lucrezia was originally mounted by the Washington National Opera. Pascoe fine-tuned the story of power struggles between the Duke (from the d’Este family) and Duchess (from the Borgia family) of the Renaissance city of Ferrara. In Pascoe’s hands, details of the plot are clarified, producing a dramatically cohesive performance.
[…] I found that the staging abounds in insights that I believe illuminate the plot. Suggesting that a person with such a dark reputation as Lucrezia is herself the victim of the Duke’s cruelty, helps set up the dénouement of Lucrezia’s suicide, after she realizes that she was the agent that destroyed her son that had become her obsession.
I previously expressed the belief that Pascoe’s decision to establish an overtly gay romance between Captain Gennaro and his fellow soldier, Maffio Orsini, was a brilliant stroke. This made explicable the decision of Gennaro, a marked man, to tarry with fatal consequences in Ferrara for one additional night.
[…] Lucrezia Borgia, I believe, still resonates with audiences. I first saw it performed by one of its twentieth-century champions, Beverly Sills, with Gaetano Scano, Suzanne Marsee and Richard Fredricks in Los Angeles in 1975. My enthusiasm for the opera has never diminished.
I’m proud of Renée Fleming for championing the opera in the twenty-first century, and for enlisting John Pascoe, Plàcido Domingo and the Washington National Opera in creating the new production. I’m proud also that the San Francisco Opera used this production, not only as the vehicle for re-establishing the company’s ties with Ms Fleming, but for mounting a world-class musical performance of an historically important, rewarding opera.
Director John Pascoe set The Medium in 1946, the year it was written, amid the rubble of postwar Europe. The exhausted Flora (Barbara Dever) became a scrounger, picking up furniture left in the streets and trading spurious séances for money that would buy precious food.
The set, also designed by Pascoe, reflected the physical reality of her world. Jagged shards of metal plunged through the roof, reminding us of the ruin outside. Tables and chairs, scattered about and hanging uselessly from the ceiling, indicated her materialism; nothing had value, unless she could touch and perhaps re-sell it. Questions of the soul were irrelevant to this woman, who scrabbled to survive. So when an inexplicable spiritual event broke through her cynical veneer, she collapsed in fear of this unknown force … ‘The dead don’t come back,’ she (Madam Flora) cried piteously, but in vain: the ineradicable memories of World War II proved that they did.
John Pascoe directed and designed the sets and costumes, and captured the claustrophobic nature of the work, entirely set in Madame Flora’s tawdry parlour. To present the smoke and mirrors of her trade as actual visual elements was a canny touch.
Gian Carlo Menotti’s classic opera The Medium returns to the Spoleto Festival USA in a visually imaginative and forcefully executed production at the Dock Street Theatre.
John Pascoe’s stage direction in itself justifies the price of admission. It is simply brilliant: economical in its use of space, dramatically adroit, suggestive, subtle and lurid at exactly the right moments. Madame Flora’s parloUr looks like the bombed-out husk of an antique shop, with rubble cleared to one side and chairs suspended high in the air amid an uneven latticework of enormous steel girders, some bent as if by intense fire.
The parlour is framed on its sides with rusted and battered mirrors. The pile of rubble looks like the partial remains of a triumphal arch, with a crowning eagle emblem and a bearded head among the bricks. (The statue’s head, like the ruin of a Greek god or defeated enemy, suggests both the missing father in the plot as well as the war that destroyed this world.)
On the opposite side is a statue of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by glowing candles. Whenever the massive doors to the back of the parlour open to admit Madame Flora or her clients, we see the bleak outline of a war-ravaged village. Near the end of the opera, as light is projected through the door into the audience, we discover that what had seemed to be stars or flickers of reflected light on the back door are likely bullet holes. The aftermath of the Second World War – the world in which the premiere of The Medium took place in 1946 – is powerfully evoked through this stage design.
Barbara Dever makes a strong entrance as Madame Flora into this crumbling world. Her character, too, is on the verge of collapse; powerfully sung, her depiction of Madame Flora was convincing throughout.
John Pascoe, the stage director and designer of Spoleto’s revival, makes the story of The Medium compelling again. This is The Medium writ large. Pascoe keeps the story in the 1940s but moves it to bomb-shattered postwar Europe. Madame Flora has set herself up in the remains of an industrial building whose steel beams hang twisted from above. When massive doors at the rear are opened, a battered skyline looms. Madame Flora becomes no mere crook, but an ageing woman struggling for survival after Armageddon.
The people around her are facing their own struggles. Instead of casting Monica, Flora’s daughter and accomplice, as the usual ingénue, Pasco makes her less petite but more soulful. For the mute Toby, Flora’s other accomplice, Pasco has bypassed the typical lithe dancer-type to enlist an actor who has magnetism but also a physical disability. Toby’s every movement becomes charged.
In the opening performance Friday, Barbara Dever’s Baba – or Madame Flora as her séance clients know her – was a hulking presence, vocally and physically. Yet as ‘Baba’ grew unhinged by an unexplainable turn in her séance, Dever let her weakness and weariness show through. The more desperate Baba became, the more pitiful she was.
Jennifer Aylmer’s ample voice and figure made Monica more womanly than she usually is. Monica’s music, the opera’s main thread of lyricism amid Baba’s upheaval, gained a new soulfulness, and her scenes with the Toby were tinged with desire. Even though Menotti gave the mute no words to say or sing, actor Gregg Mozgala – who has cerebral palsy – spoke volumes through the yearning in his eyes and the struggling fervour of his movement.
1 Michael Tilson Thomas: Dvoràk New World Symphony and Mahler’s 6th Symphony
2 Ken Noda and friends
3 John Pascoe’s Florida Grand Opera production of Don Giovanni
Opera updates often fail, but John Pascoe’s production for FGO allowed Don Giovanni to inflict his atrocities on Franco-era Spain – and it succeeded brilliantly.
John Pascoe’s production is a marvel. The greatest compliment was from several first-time operagoers saying that they never knew opera could be so exciting.
Beyond the individual and ensemble performances, Pascoe’s vision for Mozart’s Classical-period opera thrusts the setting forward from the dark days of the Spanish Inquisition to an equally dark period of the country’s history, Franco’s Spain of the late-1940s, a period within living memory.
The grandiose sets appear to be constructed of rusting iron, the turn-of-the-century construction material of many landmarks still found on the wide boulevards of Madrid and Barcelona.
The characters are beautifully costumed in painstakingly researched uniforms of the Fascist dictator’s army, colourful peasant garb and the cassocks of pious priests and nuns scurrying throughout the scenes. Even the traditional dances of Mozart’s period, the minuet and allemande, are transformed into fiery flamenco as every detail is addressed.
In its terrific, imaginative new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Florida Grand Opera shifts the Spanish setting 300 years forward to the late 1940s.
Cast, orchestra and director delivered in the big moments. The early scene in which Donna Anna and Don Ottavio swear to avenge her father’s murder had a breathless, edgy momentum. John Pascoe, the director, set and costume designer, created a setting with lots of twentieth-century touches.
In its terrific, imaginative new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Florida Grand Opera shifts the Spanish setting 300 years forward to the late 1940s.
It is some measure of Spain’s twentieth-century misfortunes that the Franco era turns out to be a credible period for the Don’s atrocities. The famous rake appears decked out like a field marshal, with epaulets and rows of medals, clearly an officer whose high rank – like the Don’s status as an aristocrat in the original seventeenth-century setting – allows him to make his way through the world, raping a woman and murdering her father, stealing the bride from a wedding, and bedding 1,003 women in Spain alone.
Ultimately, Pascoe’s brilliant and original concept, loaded with insight and imagination, succeeds not only in realising the surface of the vision of Mozart and Da Ponte, but in exploring the psychological underpinnings that have made this opera one of the landmarks of European culture.
On the surface, the Pascoe’s production moves the setting of that operatic masterpiece to the 1940s. But it’s not so much a specific time or place that matters in this constantly surprising staging, which opened the company’s 2010–2011 season Friday night at the Winspear Opera House. This is a Don Giovanni unhinged in time, floating in a dream world, where epochs collide in the realm of the subconscious. Costumes, emboldened by oversized epaulets and other symbols of power, emphasise sexuality and hierarchy.
The Catholic Church, virtually absent in the original libretto, constantly emerges in the background, most often in neat little parades of nuns or priests, or in the towering statues of the Virgin and Child, echoed in the tragicomic addition of an infant in the arms of the Donna Elvira.
One might contend that Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, ignored, with masculine callousness, the reproductive aspect of Giovanni’s adventures in their version of the story, and that this bit of staging fills in an obvious gap. Beyond that however, this addition of a live woman holding an infant in the presence of a statue of the Virgin and Child in turn echoes the towering presence of the Commendatore, whose statue comes to life in the penultimate scene like a large zombie.
All of this in turn, evokes further lust and decadence in this staging. The minuet, accompanied to some of Mozart’s most famous music, becomes a madcap but meticulously complex tango. Later on, before the arrival of the vengeance-seeking statue of the Commendatore, the dinner scene becomes a quasi-pornographic, near-rape scene. And the reconciliation of Zerlina and Masetto is deliciously steamy in a manner seldom seen on the operatic stage.
The result of this nearly playful tampering and enhancement of Mozart and Da Ponte’s original version is highly successful, making for an unfailingly engaging evening bound to keep any audience member’s eyes glued to the stage, if for no other reason to see what delightfully bizarre bit of Pascoe’s staging is going to happen next!
The presentation of a dream-pantomime over the Overture fits visually and philosophically with the weird aura that pervades the rest of the staging.
Pascoe did almost everything, including sets, costumes, and direction. The sets had a surrealist basis with a soupçon of Fellini. The costumes were timeless but seemed to have a whiff of Spain’s Franco era, but were effective and helped develop the characters.
Pascoe kept the stage filled with something interesting to see. In addition to the occasional stately procession of the ordained, atmospheric extras walked across the stage and posed in groups.
All this action proved to be a welcome change to what can be a highly static opera.
A character in the musical Nine describes an Italian film director, based on Federico Fellini, as ‘a mixture of Catholicism, pasta and pornography.’ The phrase could just as easily apply to the title antihero of Don Giovanni – at least in Pascoe’s Pulp Fiction-like interpretation. A rollicking, Dadaist take on Mozart’s dark, dreamy comedy-drama.
Pascoe’s Don Giovanni fills the Winspear Opera House with unexpectedly memorable imagery. It is a revitalised comic treasure with depth and powerful emotion.
Director John Pascoe symbolically explores librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte’s dramma giocoso, combining serious dramatic elements with sublime comedy. This opera not only seduces, it sings.
Christian symbols interwoven throughout the opera add another dimension. Priests frequently appear in the scenes, visually reminding Giovanni there is no such thing as unchecked debauchery. In another scene an imposing fountain and statue of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child hovers over him. He splashes water on himself, oblivious to his mock-baptism.
Make plans to see this spirited and impressive opera at the Winspear Opera House!
I am very glad to report that Don Giovanni currently running at the Winspear Opera House is one of the most exciting productions you are likely to see anywhere. This is the third time I have seen this opera. The previous two times it always felt unsatisfying, but now I am delighted to say in this version they got it right … The staging is impeccable, the singers are top-notch, the costumes, the lighting, the dancing, and the music – everything is pitch-perfect.
All of this exploding talent on stage was guided with a sure hand by director and production designer John Pascoe. He truly understands the balance required between explosive grandeur and subtle nuances.
This is a tragic comedy or comedic tragedy. It is a combo that is very difficult to mount, for it swings from one to the other quite a few times. Only experts should tackle it, and Pascoe proves his mastery.
Like his direction, his production design is over-the-top yet at the same time full of minute details. There are modern rivets throughout the set, creating an interesting twist to the mostly neo-classical visuals. This highly industrial detail ties into Don Giovanni’s costume made out of riveted leather. At a glance he is telling us that while this opera is classical, it is still contemporary.
A production of high quality by the director John Pascoe, who shows a basic respect for a simple tale that could easily lend itself to kitsch or camp.
Mr Pascoe, who also designed the sets, costumes and lighting, effectively teases out themes of youthful rebellion, class friction and even revolutionary ardour in a work that, as he writes in a programme note, ‘well precedes the later dramas of Beaumarchais.’
‘Leap into the arms of liberty,’ Friendly urges Flora at one point, invoking a word that carries a special charge throughout.
… with wonderful music, a stellar cast and exquisite sets and costumes. Director-designer John Pascoe keeps the action moving and has a sure touch with every aspect of the production.
Spoleto Festival USA’s charming revival of the eighteenth-century ballad opera Flora opened to a delighted audience at the newly renovated Dock Street Theatre . Director John Pascoe moves his ensemble cast from one comic situation to another, while still allowing them complete freedom to develop the comic or emotional points of their various ballads. Pascoe has provided a charming pastoral setting, which is enhanced by his dreamy lighting design.
Pascoe’s aesthetic conveys the story though colour, texture and a heavy dose of whimsy – and stays true to the unembellished nature of the narrative, adding intensity through colour. The Spoleto Festival USA website and programme display images of Pascoe’s watercolour costume designs. Those sketches are beautiful, saleable masterpieces.
The finale soared. From the famous Leonora Overture No 3 through the choral scene, rays of hope and triumph streamed from the Karvis Center stage and pit.
Beethoven’s only opera received its South Florida première in an admirable production at the Karvis Center. Despite some empty seats, the hefty crowd that turned out appreciated the fireworks that stage director John Pascoe and conductor Gerard Korsten brought for them.
John Pascoe’s sure hand as both stage director and designer provided a fine overall direction for the production. The traditional settings worked and the restrained palette and black, beige and white costuming was effective.
It was beautifully staged – a great achievement for this regional opera company.
This scaled-down design can now find its way into the smaller opera houses of America, who, until now, may not have afforded a production of Fidelio.
As Leonora helps Florestan out of the dungeon, he slowly climbs a ladder to freedom as the piccolos play their three ascendant scales in the Leonora Overture No 3. A nice directorial touch from Mr Pascoe, who manages to combine stage direction, costumes and set design very well. He’s obviously brilliant …
By giving the design of new sets and costumes to stage director John Pascoe, Palm Beach Opera took a risk but won the gold medal.
Though the Don’s innate depravity usually is the focal point of this opera, the current production, under the direction of John Pascoe, took great care to emphasise the role of Giovanni’s unholy trinity of female antagonists, imbuing this production with an intriguing feminist spin.
Much of the evening’s power came from Pascoe, who, in addition to drawing a well-coordinated response from the cast, managed a deftly nuanced balance between humorous and tragic elements…
Pascoe’s scenic design provided an effortless procession of evocative imagery (the appearance of an ornate cathedral in Act 1′s quartet was but one compelling sight) while his costumes exuded an equal amount of stylish flair.
The biggest star of the production may well be director John Pascoe who gets a uniformly animated, well-coordinated response from the cast. Humorous and tragic elements receive equally deft handling. The sight of Donna Elvira arriving with the child she bore after her fling with Don Giovanni makes a particularly telling statement.
Pascoe, a man with thirty years’ experience in opera, has brought a Giovanni both beautiful and musically fulfilling to Washington National Opera.
… But losing oneself in interpretative speculation at this point overlooks the overwhelming excellence of this performance. Giovanni is a long opera of many scenes that easily become piecemeal in lesser hands.
Pascoe picks up on the dramatic drive of the score in the opening D minor chords of the overture and sustains this throughout both acts of the opera until the tension is broken by the epilogue that follows the Don’s demise.
One sits for three hours facing a headwind that blows with passionate velocity from stage and pit. Although Pascoe opts for an essentially timeless approach in sets and costumes, references to Franco’s Spain place the story in a an era of turbulence and repression. And his designs bring to the Kennedy Center stage a sense of cosmic space that enhances the universality of the story. The dark clouds that gather at the end of Leporello’s ‘catalogue’ aria – to cite one example – clearly foretell the Don’s doom.
John Pascoe provided the sets, costumes and production and transferred the action to the mid-twentieth century, marking parallels between Ginevra and the British Princess Margaret. The period setting look lovely, the singers acted well, and the whole production was well paced. A triumphant success.
A sober and classic interpretation … John Pascoe was able to reflect Handel’s graceful music through his stage direction, scenery and costumes, which were both elegant and modern.
After the acclaim obtained by his ironic and nude Ercole, the British director John Pascoe came back to Spoleto Festival to direct and design an original version of Handel’s Ariodante. Once again he communicated something new.
‘The underlying motif of Pascoe’s production is that appearances should always be questioned as reality is so often hidden …
The story turns around the presumed infidelity of Ginevra, who pays the price of the lies told by the scheming and jealous Polinesso.
The bass Carlo Lepore played the role of the King of Scotland with intense vocal colour … He was excellent on stage.
Marta Vandoni Lorio played the role of Dalinda as a very British lady in waiting, full of extremely contained elegance.
The stage is surrounded by mirrored walls into which the characters often look while asking themselves why their true selves are hidden behind their masks, making them seem so different.
The grey, neo-Gothic atmosphere of this slightly decaying royal palace makes the opera’s dramatic flow even more exciting.
A sober and minimalist production that worked perfectly in the intimate Spoleto theatre
Pascoe treated the story as a political power struggle. The two Acts are finely motivated and richly characterised with a fine use of space. In the final tableau those left on stage – even the requisite royal hound – all fight for the abandoned crown.
Pascoe’s design emphasises 1950s glamour in a rich palette of black, white and grey, with chic tartan elements and handsome military uniforms while cigarettes dangle from elegantly gloved hands. In her portrait neckline and upswept hair, Ginevra resembles Princess Margaret. A large medallion (the Royal Order of the Garter) suspended over the stage represents the monarchy, and huge mirrored walls offer various characters space for self-enquiry.
This double DVD features John Pascoe’s beautifully directed and designed production.
The 2006 Spoleto festival in Italy presented Vivaldi’s opera Ercole su’l Termodonte in a production designed and directed eloquently by John Pascoe.
Reflecting Pascoe’s intention to set Hercules apart, tenor Zachary Stains plays the role nude, with only a lion’s skin cape billowing dramatically behind him. To his credit, Stains pulls of the effect stunningly and commands the stage like a gorgeous classical statue come to life. His performance admirably unites movement, drama, delivery of recitative and virtuouso singing. Rather than coming off as a cheap stunt, the moves comes off brilliantly, the effect powerful and totally congruent with the overall design look of angles, shadows and deeply textured contours.
Pascoe’s set is all shiny surfaces, with side mirrors reflecting a set of stairs graced with real olive trees (when representing the grove) or scattered broken phalluses (when suggesting the Greek camp).
Pascoe keeps the stage uncluttered and his action clear.
Pascoe’s production is witty and effective.
The production by John Pascoe was attended by much commotion, perhaps partly because the rebirth of of a long-lost opera is always cause for excitement, but perhaps also because of his unusually original staging – immersed in symbolism, yet faithful to extant representations of Greek mythology, all meant to appeal to the modern sensibility. Whether the appeal is universal will likely hinge on whether or not operagoers find the nudity and staging distractive of Vivaldi’s beautiful music. But one thing is certain: opera Vivaldi is in vogue. BUY IT NOW!
Pascoe’s direction makes for excellent and well-integrated movement.
The Opéra de Québec struck a winning blow with this first production of the season.
The sold-out audience was charged with enthusiasm. How can you resist success, especially when it was was the result of a collaboration of all concerned? The actors were extremely well directed by John Pascoe. His sets depict an immense Japanese flag, with changing colours that finally evolve into a bloodspot, while on stage, a war of flags is waged between the United States and the Empire of the Rising Sun.
Pinkerton and Sharpless appear almost as two ghosts, costumed in dazzling white. Does not this recall the colour of death and mourning in the oriental cultures?
This new production presented a number of striking and audacious traits.
To be sure, one immediately recognises Pascoe’s hand in the visual design, dominated by a flamboyant red circle that stands out from the luminous white background. The Stars and Stripes and the Japanese Rising Sun – stark simple and elegant.
When Butterfly enters carrying the United States flag, she makes a strong symbolic statement. We are immediately led to understand that the differences between Japan and the United States, the underlying background to the libretto, will play a leading role in the stage director’s vision of the work. It was undoubtedly worthwhile developing this theme.
In my opinion, the drama of Madama Butterfly has never appeared so contemporary.
John Pascoe’s direction and sets allow the drama to emerge in a series of tableaux of great beauty; nothing needs adjusting. The costumes are also quite beautiful. The greys of the chorus set off the luminous white of the soloists, and the sets (again by John Pascoe) are very Zen: sober, unornamented, elegant, effective.
Doesn’t the production reveal the arrogance of this almighty American, who takes the world as his playground, who neither respects nor is interested in ‘the other person’, and who carelessly sows suffering and death wherever he goes?
All opera premières should be so lucky when it comes to production values. Director-designer John Pascoe brought a classy touch to everything. His taut pacing generated a cinematic flow – a split-stage effect in Act II came off particularly well – and his elegant sets and period costumes served Democracy with a resounding vote of theatrical confidence.
Democracy is very well done … The production by John Pascoe is simple and elegant, with costumes to match: the split-screen courting scenes worked nicely … New American operas are not often treated to all these good thing, but Democracy deserves them.
Director–designer john Pascoe expertly employed the axiom of ‘less is more’ with a tightly concieved, visually inviting production almost devoid of colour except for green (the colour of American money). Emotionally charged visuals contrasted the scenes.
Director and designer John Pascoe came through with the best work I’ve seen from him – he kept the multi-layers of dramatic action in Democracy both separate and intertwined, and provided stately, handsome vistas before which they could unfold.
…. The new work sparkled with a high-energy performance by its young cast, who were crisply directed by John Pascoe.
…. and having John Pascoe as designer and director assured classy production values … Pascoe’s cinematically paced direction, elegant sets and period costumes gave Democracy a visual vote of confidence.
Washington Opera didn’t stint on production values … Director and designer John Pascoe’s sumptuous costumes — white ball gowns and black tuxedos, with Mrs Lee the only character wearing a different colour, green … were among the stars of the show. Pascoe kept the action fluid. I especially liked the way he staged Wheeler’s cinematic alternations between two parallel love scenes on the two halves of the stage.
Our patience with the spatial challenges of the DAR is rewarded with this absorbing innovative staging of Manon Lescaut. Director, set and costume designer John Pascoe brings a holistic sensibility to the production, using every inch of the theatre space to involve lighting, texture and interesting combinations of media. As the ear listens, the eye is inextricably drawn into the production’s visual layers, and the combination of the drama, the music and what we see is often stunningly potent.
Though this distinguishes the production, it sadly cannot quite make up for the deeply unsympathetic foibles of milady Manon Lescaut. Perhaps the only time Manon’s silliness actually comes together with the imaginative craft of Pascoe is in the second act, where we see her finally surrounded by the wealth and attention she craves.
Act two is set in Manon’s fabulously opulent boudoir in the home of Geronte de Revoir, the man she clearly married for his money. Although she pines for her impoverished but supposedly true love Des Grieux, Manon is clearly equally in love with the trappings of wealth. In keeping with Pascoe’s excellent use of imagery, her bedroom is dominated by six gigantic armoires topped with wonderfully sinister ancestral busts. The cabinets contain her magnificent gowns or jewels, each a testament to her shallow quest for wealth. The way in which these massive wardrobes work against the stage perspective, looming and yet silent, is positively nightmarish. Manon proceeds to dance for her doting husband in and around these behemoths, finally ending up inside one. The entire sequence is extraordinary, by turns enchanting and grotesque.
The massive omnipresent object hanging at the diagonal across the stage in Washington National Opera’s appealing new production of Manon Lescaut puts everything into sharp perspective. It’s the flat well-worn blade of a guillotine, a reminder of what’s in store for all the preening Parisian aristocrats and their retinues – the obscenely rich, indulgent class that Manon finds so irresistible – come the Revolution.
So what’s with this guillotine? It is just one way that director and set and costume designer John Pascoe has imaginatively and incisively widened the work’s scope. This Manon Lescaut fills in the edges around a plot that the composer telescoped in the interest of operatic flow. The result is an effective layering of context. Motivations – and consequences – seem to loom larger in a staging that so vividly places us in the thick of a France that will soon crumble.
The look and feel of the whole production serve Puccini’s creation remarkably well, while also providing a solid vehicle for the company’s return to the renovated Kennedy Center Opera House.
Pascoe’s striking visual sense – skies that change hue with an ominous tinge, a dazzling jewel-filled tower that menaces rather than graces a palatial boudoir: occasional use of film provides continual interest, just as his direction ensures a steady pulse to the drama.
Pascoe and Domingo have moved the Intermezzo from its original placement before Act III to the start of Act IV. Purists may carp but you’ll get no argument from me. It seems to heighten the finale’s desolation.
Ultimately Pascoe’s concept enlivens – even enriches – Manon Lescaut. It’s a very impassioned, sensual production, a satisfying match for Puccini’s very impassioned, sensual score.
Pascoe understands Puccini’s earthiness! The detailed character work must be attributed to John Pascoe, who moves principals and choristers around with fluidity and a knack for conveying narrative through well composed stage pictures and the telling business he creates to illuminate character. Best of all in Act II, when Manon grabs fistfuls of jewellery to use as currency in her emotional maneuverings, rolls around on the floor with De Grieux and makes Geronte confront his flaccid reflection in the glinting surfaces of her jewel cabinet. Act II provides the evening’s most satisfying setting as well, thanks again to Pascoe doing double duty as the production’s scenic designer. Manon’s bedroom is rendered in gargantuan scale with towering jewellery cabinets – vaults, really – and impossibly grand murals, all flanked by huge banks of black mirrors, floored in high-gloss ebony and overhung with a stage-wide guillotine blade. (The story is set in Paris just before the French Revolution). There’s an enveloping darkness to his design that suggests perpetual night and it seems the perfect doom-laden setting for Manon’s arrest.
The Washington National opera made its long awaited return to the Kennedy Center Opera house Saturday evening with a lavish new production by John Pascoe of Manon Lescaut. Resplendent with rich costuming and decadent sets by director John Pascoe, this realization of Puccini’s masterpiece is the most visually arresting creation the company has staged in recent memory.
The Intermezzo was moved by Pascoe from its usual place in the center of the work and positioned more effectively between Acts III and IV.
The attractive new production by John Pascoe, who also designed sets and costumes, was at its most striking in recreating the ambience of luxury to which the irresistible Manon is irresistibly drawn. The Boulle cabinets in Act II (from one of which Manon emerged Olympia-like to sing an arietta) were a neat touch.
Visually, John Pascoe’s Rococo set and costume design go a long way to making up for the deficiencies of plot and score. The Dancing Master in Act II is almost worth the price of admission by himself!
The handsome and imaginative new production by John Pascoe provided the ‘buffa’ goods, making Donizetti’s opera shine like new. Director-designer Pascoe has transplanted the story to 1920 New York , which required a minimum of adjustment and worked surprisingly well. Pascoe provided some eye-catching costumes and clever use of effective scenic retooling: Norina’s room is now a dingy laundry, and Ernest sings his farewell lament from a Brooklyn wharf under the bridge girders. The same arches appear later, serving for Pasquale’s art deco high-rise terrace overlooking a glittering Manhattan skyline.
Splitting the action after Ernesto’s lament and running Acts II and III together was a daring yet successful move by Pascoe, providing greater momentum and building the comic energy inexorably to the finale.
John Pascoe’s creative stamp was a major force in the production, his design and direction, with its turn-of-the-century ambience and glamour, was a jewel of a setting.
The innovative setting chosen for the highjinks was Brooklyn at the beginning of the twentieth century. The elaborately detailed production was musically first-rate , well cast, tightly staged and visually interesting. The smiles on the audience’s faces told the tale – an entreating evening filled with good fun.
The most striking aspect was the production’s detailed thoroughness. Scene-wise, Don Pasquale’s digs moved from solid, baronial opulence to a silver-screen feminine frou-frou. The interesting costuming was suavely underplayed for the chorus and supernumeries and brought to the fore for the principals – very much to the fore for Norina’s smashing, very Gloria Swanson/Sunset Boulevard ensemble for the last act.
If the singing and acting hadn’t been so fabulous, the set would have been the star of the show! The final set, the fifth luminary in this feast for the eyes, elicited a round of applause at first glimpse on the opening night. The vine-draped garden was spectacular, with a trompe l’oeil vista of the New York skyline circa 1919 in the background.
Pascoe’s addition of a non-singing character, Mrs Hooper the housekeeper, worked effectively. Myrna Paris (actually a distinguished contralto) handled the silent role effectively, showing a doting, caring attitude to her employer Don Pasquale. Her silent expert background role, added character, humour and dimension to the tale.
Palm Beach Opera brought the master’s delightful opera buffa Don Pasquale to the stage. The opening night performance on January 27 was as sparkling and effervescent as good champagne. British director-designer John Pascoe reset the opera in 1920s New York. The doddering Don Pasquale lived in a Fifth Avenue townhouse, Norina was a flapper with a Gloria Swanson wig, the entire production was great fun. When Norina hired new servants, it seemed as if Hollywood had invaded Don Pasquale’s life. Pascoe’s direction was witty and the comedy really had snap – and that’s exactly what opera buffa is all about. The ensemble scenes were filled with subtle comic touches, while reduced to two acts, the entire evening was an uninterrupted delight. In the words of Ira Gershwin, ‘Who could ask for anything more?’
The scenes flow with a cinematic fluidity, the images are aesthetic and strong, making a perfect synthesis between a certain classicism and a number of original ideas. The Catalogue aria offers in projection, faces of women tortured in hell while at the end Giovanni is carried of by these same vampire like ghosts of his damned victims. His young interpreters are totally involved in their characters as real actors, moreover I have rarely seen the two Commendatore scenes realised with such dexterity.
Still and video projections generated a lot of atmosphere and some clever complements to the text, as when the names of Giovanni’s female conquests scrolled by on the parchment screen. Victims, both ghostly women and their children appeared live and on film seeking revenge.
John Pascoe’s innovative sets and lavish costuming place the Don, his pals, his enemies and his conquests in an authentically Spanish–Moorish environment. The elaborately phallic columns looming over the action seem like they were derived from the film Metropolis, but this adds an intriguing element to what is an otherwise well-grounded costume drama.
Mr Pascoe, who also directs, emphasises the crime and punishment aspect of Giovanni that is laid out in the opera’s original subtitle, Il dissolute punito. With his re-emphasis on the moral underpinnings – whether the composer actually believed them or not – Mr Pascoe creates a far more believable and gripping concept than was possible in the company’s relativistic, almost Clintonion, 1998 realisation.
The company can be proud of this Don Giovanni. It’s not only good under the circumstances, it also one of the more engaging and insightful staging Washington Opera has mounted in years.
Thanks to the stage director John Pascoe, we get to meet quite a few more of the ladies in Giovanni’s life. In a cannily choreographed dumb show in the overture, spectres of the Don’s deceased conquests, a tangle of decomposing Giselles, Ophelias and Miss Havishams, slither from under the floorboards and mingle with the party guests, Giovanni among them. It’s a terrific concept and just one instance of Pascoe’s perceptive and finely wrought theatrical vision.
At key moments throughout the opera, video projections of these women sweep across the backdrop: we see them crossing themselves as Anna and Ottavio swear vengeance on her father’s murderer, then pointing in horror as their names are read out from Leporello’s book of conquests in the Catalogue aria. No surprise then that these damaged, abandoned women eventually rise from their graves to help the Stone Guest take Giovanni down to the blazes.
Visual interest centres on a half-stage-width screen shaped like an unscrolled piece of parchment, over which appear the lists of Giovanni’s exploits, names of the women he seduced, or keywords of the narrative: ‘Vendetta’ when the screen caught fire and then became soaked with spilled blood. At other times it fills with video footage of the dead women, or, as at the beginning and the end of the opera, it transforms into a gargantuan ‘PBS telecast’ as we watch a live video feed of Plácido Domingo conducting the orchestra.
Pascoe’s blocking of the singers also democratically allows the action to be clearly seen from all angles. There are telling behavioural observations, as in the subtly played moment when Giovanni realises that Anna has recognised him as the masked intruder who assaulted her and killed her father – and in Giovanni’s last affectionate embrace of Leporello once he’s resigned himself to divine retribution.