Donizetti comedies are not exactly my favourite corner of the operatic repertoire, and Don Pasquale is not a great bel canto score, but I was hopeful for this after the surprising brilliance of Glyndebourne's Elixir in the Festival this year. This is a new production directed by Mariame Clément, designed by Julia Hansen with lighting by Bernd Purkrabek, and was a complete treat from start to finish. We are simply and ingeniously introduced to all of the characters by Dr Malatesta, the central machinator of the piece, who slinks through the various rooms of the revolving set as the others all sleep. The sets themselves are simple, but beautifully thought out, each character having their own room which is reflected in their costumes. Dozens of delightful details like this make it a joy to watch and lose yourself in. The four colourful and strongly differentiated costumes of the main four characters are contrasted with the pristine white 18th century french elegance of the chorus (who must love it!), who watch the action from outside the revolving stage as a tittering, fluttering, upper class theatre audience - not just an amusing touch, but an often breathtaking spectacle. The last scene, where the rendezvous has been set up, reveals an outrageously gorgeous clouded azure sky with magenta and tangerine sunset, the chorus sitting on the lawn, eating their (white) picnics: a clear send up of Glyndebourne's indulgently beautiful tradition. The lighting is imaginative and very effective throughout and is in perfect accord with the sets, costumes and direction.
Jonathan Veira played Don Pasquale with appropriate humour, pomposity and warmth, with his extraordinary rubber like face and superb comic timing. Unfortunately the voice is slightly lacking in volume and beauty, though these are probably not the most important characteristics in this role. Enea Scala played the role of Ernesto, in this production hopelessly adolescent, dandyish, romantic and sulky. As well as being a great "straight man" for the other characters to mock, he delivered some beautiful legato singing and truly thrilling top notes without a hint of strain. In this production the doctor (played by Andrei Bondarenko) and Norina (played by Ainhoa Garmendia) are having an affair, and run off into the sunset at the end leaving a heart broken Ernesto - Bondarenko's well sung, serious and slightly sinister presence made this a very nice little twist. I wasn't super keen on Garmendia's Norina it has to be said - the coloratura was all rather laboured, with a large vibrato and not terribly attractive tone. Not really her fach, and I yearned for Danielle de Niese's acting ability, vocal talents and sexual confidence after her fantastic performance this summer as Adina. Is she too famous for Glyndebourne on tour? Certainly not bad though.
The orchestra did well though had very little of their own to do of course, almost completely relegated to dutiful accompaniment as they are, and I could never complain about Enrique Mazzola's conducting. The singers were always audible and well supported which was obviously good.
All in all though a great evening out at the opera and one that I would strongly recommend even if the music doesn't appeal. Delightful.