Opera makes a dramatic return to Dom Pedro V, Macau, China’s oldest Western-style theatre

The Dom Pedro V Theatre, built in 1860, will host a production combining two operas, La Serva Padrona from 1733 and Il Segreto di Susanna from 1909, with music supplied by a trombone quartet. More operas are planned for the future

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 March, 2018, 7:26pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 March, 2018, 7:39pm

There’s nothing old-fashioned about a new opera production at the oldest Western-style theatre in China, Macau’s Dom Pedro V Theatre.

Duetto, a pairing of two one-act operas, features a rock’n’roll set, action that takes place throughout the theatre, from foyer to stage, and, in place of an orchestral accompaniment, a piano and a trombone quartet.

The two chamber operas, written nearly 200 years apart, are linked dramatically into a single story. Although this is not entirely new – a recent production of Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci at Covent Garden set both operas within the same village and characters from one appeared in the other – it still makes for a different experience.

The production is the latest operatic milestone for the historic theatre, built in 1860 and said to have staged the Asian premiere of Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly.

“Over the past 20 years, Hong Kong audiences have been able to enjoy a number of productions of what is referred to as grand opera, but Macau has been exposed to operettas a lot more, and the Dom Pedro V has always been the stage of choice,” says Andrea Dal Cin, opera producer and co-founder of classical music promoter Solomusica.

For Duetto, Dal Cin has chosen two rarely performed works, La Serva Padrona (The Maid Made Mistress) by 18th century composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, first performed in 1733, and Il Segreto di Susanna (Susanna’s Secret) by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, which premiered in 1909.

The production will also allow audiences to engage with the action in innovative and intimate ways.

“This is an ‘extended’ opera experience,” says Dal Cin. “The musical arrangement is unique and the stage stretches out to the foyer of the theatre.

“We are combining tradition with innovation. This is the Asia premiere of Il Segreto di Susanna, and we are making the production a combination of opera and theatre.”

The production features a soprano, a baritone and a mute actor, and offers a chance for emerging artists to play leading roles.

Colombian soprano Julieth Lozano plays the female lead, while Hong Kong-born baritone Jacob Bettinelli plays both male lead roles. Currently studying at the Royal College of Music in London, Bettinelli was awarded Opera Hong Kong’s K. Wah International Vocal Scholarship in 2017.

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“Jacob performed in Serva Padrona before in London and the choice was straightforward. Julieth was selected for her beautiful voice, but also for her detailed acting,” Dal Cin says.

Bettinelli became hooked on opera as a young boy and watching a performance of Puccini’s La Boheme sealed his decision to become an opera singer.

Although he has performed in Hong Kong both in the chorus and in small roles, including Masetto in Don Giovanni, Duetto will be his Macau debut.

“Every time I learn and perform a new piece, it is just like another dream coming true. I have broadened my horizons so much after four years studying in London,” Bettinelli says. “I am so excited to bring Western opera music a tiny bit closer to the non-traditional local audience.”

While Dal Cin has previously staged operas in Hong Kong, Macau and China, this is the first time he is trying out a chamber opera experience in Macau.

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He already has plans for future productions in the region, which will also feature emerging singers.

“We have long-term plans,” Dal Cin says. “We have identified at least a dozen titles that are worth presenting to local audiences. These are taken from the many Italian comic operas and operettas.

“We would like to work towards re-establishing the Dom Pedro V as the Asian gateway for our productions. After Macau, we will bring Duetto into other cities in Asia.”

Duetto, Solomusica, Mar 30 and 31, 8pm; Mar 31 and Apr 1, 3pm, Dom Pedro V Theatre, Macau. Tickets: HK$200, HK$300 and HK$500. Inquiries: (852) 6160 4586 / 6113 9170