Review: Don Pasquale (Glyndebourne)
Mariame Clément's breezy version of Donizetti's opera returns
Off I went with a spring in my step to see my least favourite repertoire opera. (Should I admit that? Too late, it's done now.) Donizetti's buffa entertainment has the power to bore and annoy yours truly at the same time - no small feat - unless it is staged especially well, and at Glyndebourne it is done so brilliantly that last time round I practically loved it.
My beef with this routine Commedia tale of cuckoldry and come-uppance is its mean spirit. For a light comedy, Don Pasquale has a heartless streak that says it's quite okay for old men to be humiliated so that younger people can have their way. And it's not as if Don P does anything wrong. He isn't a jealous guardian like Bartolo in The Barber of Seville, nor a preening buffoon like Falstaff. He's a bit crabby, that's all, His kicking is not earned.
More contentiously (and other opinions are available), I find the opera musically undistinguished for much of its duration and inferior to the composer's other comic favourites, L'elisir d'amore and La Fille du régiment. Only in the third act when the lovelorn Ernesto sings his serenade do we hear the best of Donizetti.
Happily, Mariame Clément's blissful production from 2011 more than compensates. From the overture onwards the French director fills her stage with clever sight gags and treats us to endless wrong-footing surprises on Julia Hansen's revolving set. No spoilers, but just when you'd forgotten there's a chorus in the thing, one rolls by. It's proper funny.
In terms of casting, though, this new manifestation is several notches below the splendid 2015 touring revival. Renato Girolami in the title role had the notes but neither the pathos nor the glint in the old man's eye, Andrey Zhilikhovsky as the scheming Dr Malatesta wandered to the sharp side rather too often, while tenor Andrew Stenson's Ernesto was too lachrymose for Donizetti's crystalline style and duetted uncomfortably with Lisette Oropesa's show-stealing Norina.
The Cuban-American soprano was equal to all her character's skittish bel canto demands. Hilarious, endearing and blest with immaculate timing, she made the cruel challenges of her Act 1 cavatina seem like throwaway lines and single-handedly gave the evening its class.
Giacomo Sagripanti conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra in a clean, trim account of the score, and the occasional glitch 'twixt pit and stage will surely be ironed out as the run progresses. As for the underused Glyndebourne Chorus, its sparkling interventions lent a champagne fizz to a refreshingly short evening. What better way to enjoy Glyndebourne?
Don Pasquale continues in repertory at Glyndebourne until 23 August.