Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Don Pasquale @ Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Lewes


Glyndebourne (Photo: Marc Eskenazi)

This was a hugely entertaining and elegantly staged production from young French-Iranian director Mariame Clements, making her Glyndebourne debut.

Jonathan Veira, as Don Pasquale, builds on the reputation for his previous performances for Glyndebourne as Falstaff and as Don Magnifico in Cenerentola and now, at the height of his powers he must surely be our best buffo bass. A superb performance, showing impeccable comic timing and delivery of the tongue twisting patter, he also brought elements of sympathy to the role showing both touching vulnerability and an affectionate generation gap incomprehension and frustration with his bolshie-teenager nephew.

Sicilian-born Enea Scala sings with a beautifully Italianate voice, combining style, gracefulness and ease, his dry tone and pure bel canto perfectly suiting the role of the love-struck Ernesto and making light weight of the often demanding coloratura passages.

As Despina, in Cosi fan Tutti, Ainhoa Garmendia previously showed the Festival at Glyndebourne that she is a consummate actress and perceptive singer. Here, as Norina, she was on effervescent form; the role has some exquisite lines and she showed vocal agility and real power, startlingly and hilariously transformed from demure convent- educated Sophronia into a domestically abusive termagant driving Don Pasquale to the end of his tether.

As Dr Malatesta, Andrei Bondarenko had a strong and convincing presence as the sinister manipulative conman and author of the trouble heaped on Pasquale. Hardly a friend and certainly not one to have as your GP, Dr Headache might be a more accurate appellation. As to be expected from a BBC Song of the Year winner, he has impeccable delivery as well as witty timing, engaging effortlessly and charismatically with both the audience and the opera.

Conductor Roy Laughlin gave assured musical direction to a first rate orchestra and chorus.

In interview, Director Mariame Clement said that she decided on an 18th century setting for her production because the enlightenment was also a time of strong self-determined women. Collaborating with Designer Julia Hansen and Lighting Designer Bernd Purkrabek, this is an elegant staging which flows well. It is set in the rococo world of the ancien regime: the chorus enter as white-dressed bewigged, patched and powdered aristos; Act III sees a breathtaking Tiepolo skyscape and elegant fete-champetre tea party clearly inspired by Watteau. In the opening sequence Malatesta moves sinuously from room to room as the set revolves, finding first Ernesto prostrate on his bed in the same pose as Boucher’s Mademoiselle O’Murphy, albeit en culottes. His room, it has to be said, is just an adolescents mess rather than the result of any hurly burly on the chaise longue; in the next, finding Norina, not reading a romantic novel, but hard-nosed and self-determined as a Becky Sharpe, at her table scribbling off chick-lit to make money; and in the third, Don Pasquale snoring on his daybed while his housekeeper sits on guard by the door.

The war cry which brought down the ancien regime was Libert Egalit Fraternit, which must also have resonated with Clement as those three elements are apparent in her production: the fraternity she finds in the almost paternal relationship between Pasquale and Ernesto, recognising their own vulnerability in the other; equality, in the sexual political sense, in the characterisation of Norina. So far so good. The liberty, fortunately, is left to the last moments in the finale to Act III where the hitherto clandestine and if their relationship as intended in the original libretto is to be believed possibly incestuous, lovers Norina and Malatesta dance happily off into the sunset. Unfortunately this stretches interpretation into annoying reinvention for it not only leaves Ernesto stunned, though the words and the score speak of his joyous reconciliation, but also robs the scene of any sincerity. But then again, maybe Becky Sharpe would have understood.

That final cavil aside, it was nevertheless a brilliant evening.

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Don Pasquale @ Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Lewes