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Travel back to 1960s South Philly

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Theater audiences will be able to travel back in time to 1960s South Philly during a comic opera coming to the Helen Corning Warden Theater at 1920 Spruce St.

Philadelphia’s prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts will present Gaetano Donizetti’s “opera buffa” Don Pasquale starting Feb. 16. Set in 1960s South Philadelphia, the show will take audiences on a sentimental adventure evoking nostalgia from the golden age of the Italian Market to plastic covers on furniture.

Set in South Philly, the era of Dick Clark’s Bandstand, Frankie Avalon and Wilt Chamberlain were the talk of the town — or at the dinner table as audience members join in on the fun of a Sunday night Italian meal.

When deciding upon the setting for the opera, director Richard Troxell drew from personal experience.

“I’m new to Don Pasquale, and when I was studying the opera, I immediately thought of my Uncle Romeo in South Philadelphia,” Troxell said. “This 69-year-old bachelor living in his brownstone in South Philly. It just made sense.”

Academy of Vocal Arts’s award-winning Resident Artists will perform the production. Richard A. Raub will conduct the AVA Opera Orchestra. It will be the third time Maestro Raub will conduct the opera, the last time being in AVA’s 2009 production that starred international opera stars Corinne Winters, Steven LaBrie and Taylor Stayton.

“When this opera was first composed, it was written for the greatest voices in the world at that time,” said Maestro Raub. “This opera is such a joy, and I’m thrilled to be doing it again.”

Shows will be held on Feb. 16, Feb. 18, Feb. 21 and Feb. 23. Showtime for each show is at 7:30 p.m. Don Pasquale will be sung in Italian with English supertitles.

According to the program, the venerable Don Pasquale has chosen a wife for his nephew Ernesto, who wants to marry Norina. The elderly Don disapproves and decides to find a wealthy bride of his own. With Norina in disguise and a fake wedding, the couple and their friend Dr. Malatesta make Don Pasquale rue the day he ever considered marriage.

There’s plenty of South Philly influence to set the backdrop for a funny story. 

“Instead of the servants that are traditionally in this opera, they will instead be the nosy neighbors sitting on stoops,” said Troxell. “They’re the ‘I know a guy’ guys.”

For tickets and more information, visit: https://avaopera.org/event/don-pasquale-2/.

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