Don Pasquale (Glyndebourne - tour)
Colourful entertainment, inventively staged in this classic Glyndebourne production
Forget the autumn chills; this 2011-vintage Don Pasquale is so warm and sunny you'll wish you'd brought a picnic. With its friendly concept, chic designs and impeccable sense of style Mariame Clément's staging is the essence of Glyndebourne, and in this revival by Paul Higgins it's radiantly performed.
Donizetti's buffa confection is essentially a retread of Rossini's The Barber of Seville: young couple dupes ageing lech abetted by wily third party. The scenario is pure commedia dell'arte, of course, but the opera has less to do with street entertainment than drawing-room wit. It's a quality that Clément accentuates by setting it in the era of the Sun King, where elegant observers peer through lorgnettes and loudly chuckle their ostentatious ridicule.
Cards on the table, Don Pasquale has never been my favourite opera, but this delectable touring version might lead me to change that opinion. Designer Julia Hansen's elegant, triple-segmented revolve conceals some neat surprises behind its imposing red curtains, with sight-gags galore and at least two gasp-out-loud moments. Awash with confident colours and stylish wit, and expertly lit by Bernd Purkrabek (in a re-creation by Andrew May), the set steals the show. Yet it never runs away with it.
The cast is one of those miracles of alchemy that Glyndebourne does so well: a quartet of singers who may not yet be household names but soon will be. Portuguese baritone José Fargilha, brimming with buffa agility, sets melancholy above folly as the deluded old Don, and is all the funnier for it. His tongue-twisting duet with John Brancy's saturnine schemer Malatesta will leave you wreathed in smiles. (The handsome, mellifluous American paints his lothario-like character as more Mephisto than Figaro; he makes you wonder what's in it for him, then lets you fear you've worked it out.)
'The complete package'
The young lovers are every bit as splendid. Eliana Pretorian, whose Serpetta enchanted audiences last year when La finta giardiniera toured, is an alluring Norina: she sings like a nightingale and projects the knowing comedy for all its worth. And young Finnish tenor Tuomas Katajala is a thrilling discovery who infuses Ernesto's musical lines with exemplary bel canto phrasing and tonal beauty. Catch him now before he's whisked off to grace the world's big stages.
Tyro conductor Duncan Ward repays the company's faith with an eloquent account of the score at the helm of a perky Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra. Donizetti doesn't give his pit musicians much to get their teeth into, but they provide the singers with a satisfying (and occasionally sardonic) musical featherbed. The prodigious Glyndebourne Chorus piles on the class too, immaculately prepared as ever by Jeremy Bines and sharply directed by Higgins in its occasional appearances.
Clément's production is memorable for so many reasons, but her greatest achievement is to humanise a succession of stock characters and give them feet of clay. I love her silent sub-plot for Pasquale's faithful retainer (touchingly played by Anna-Marie Sullivan), and Malatesta's ambiguities are fascinating.
This Don Pasquale is the complete package and it's been exquisitely re-parcelled by Higgins and Ward. Glyndebourne is delivering it to a range of south-of-England theatres over the next couple of months. Unwrap and enjoy.
Don Pasquale plays in repertoire at Glyndebourne until 31 October, then tours to Canterbury, Milton Keynes, Norwich, Plymouth and Woking until 4 December.