Don Pasquale (Glyndebourne)
Donizetti's late opera is revived at Glyndebourne by Mariame Clément, starring Italian baritone Alessandro Corbelli in the title role
The weather is always a consideration at Glyndebourne, in part at least an outdoor experience, and in the midst of a heatwave what's needed is something short and joyful. The revival of Mariame Clément's sparkling 2011 Don Pasquale, one of Donizetti's finest comic confections, is just the ticket.
There's little evidence of its origins as a touring show in the slick and elegant staging, where production values are astonishingly high. Clément does nothing radical, presenting the opera in gorgeous 18th Century finery which apes a Watteau painting in the final garden scene, and yet there's enough fresh thinking to keep it from dull traditionality. From an illustrated overture, in which Nikolay Borchev's black-clad Doctor Malatesta passes eerily through walls while the main players sleep, there's plenty of inventive touches to keep the audience amused and surprised. The chorus of exquisite meringues (wonderfully drilled by Jeremy Bines), who come into their own in the final act, is a joy.
The gulling of an old man presumptuous enough to think himself worthy of a young and beautiful bride is apt material for comedy in any age. The conceit that Donizetti's opera revolves around is a plot to prevent the aged Don Pasquale from disinheriting his nephew by marrying and producing a rival heir. A phony marriage is cobbled together and the dove that he falls for on first meeting turns instantly into a dragon whose extravagant and demanding behaviour drives him to the brink of despair.
If there's a weakness to Clément's concept, such as it is, it's in the darkening of Malatesta's character, which includes a salacious physicality in his relationship with Danielle de Niese's voluptuous Norina, the cunning minx who leads the old codger a merry dance. It's an unnecessary elaboration; she's a playacting deceiver but not a tart and to give her a willing liaison with the doctor belies her fidelity to Ernesto. The direction is taut and light, though, and Julia Hansen's sets, adeptly swapping locations on a busy revolve, have a simple ingenuity.
De Niese's voice is on the light side for Norina but her glamour and acting abilities make her a delightful stage presence. Enea Scala (a late replacement on the first night for an indisposed Alek Shrader) is a heartfelt Ernesto and the blackness of Borchev's tone as Malatesta suits the interpretation. This sort of comedy is second nature to Alessandro Corbelli, who is as dexterous as ever as the fooled and foolish old man.
Don Pasquale is a delightful work, much closer in its economic structuring to "L'elisir d'amore" than to the often misfiring "La fille du régiment". It must count as among the composer's finest achievements, with a score of great beauty and agility and clear, clean dramaturgy that provides the opportunity for a good few laughs. Enrique Mazzola conducts the London Philharmonic with the speed and finesse required, a wonderful accompaniment to the onstage action.
Don Pasquale continues at Glyndebourne until 24 August 2013. It's broadcast to cinemas nationwide on 6 August.