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Don Pasquale review at Glyndebourne – ‘deft and absorbing’

John Brancy, Jose Fardilha and Eliana Pretorian in Don Pasquale at Glyndebourne. Photo: Tristram Kenton John Brancy, Jose Fardilha and Eliana Pretorian in Don Pasquale at Glyndebourne. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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New in 2011, Mariame Clement’s staging of Donizetti’s popular opera buffa (now revived by Paul Higgins) offers an astute view of the piece, successfully (mostly) delving beneath the surface sparkle of its stock commedia dell’arte-derived characters.

Here, Don Pasquale, Ernesto and Norina are trapped like puppets in a revolving stage. Each has their own compartment and each appears visually awkward in each other’s spaces. Always in black, the scheming Malatesta moves freely between all of them, not least in the overture, during which he slinks between them as the stage rotates. Dressed from head-to-toe in brilliant white, the chorus is a crowd of theatregoers observing and commenting on the spectacle. The action is set in the early 18th century, more than 100 years before it was written.

Some of this layering may mute the comic edge, but it succeeds in adding insight into the characters’ relationships and motivations. At times it goes too far – the occasional black interstitial revolve featuring Malatesta as a subsumer of the spaces adds little; and there is a curious bolt-on to the scenario, such that – even though he is helping to bring Ernesto and Norina together – Malatesta has some sort of future with Norina.

In the well-matched cast, Jose Fardilha is the comic core as the old buffoon Pasquale whose scheme to disinherit Ernesto spectacularly collapses; Finnish tenor Tuomas Katajala sings Ernesto with a ringing tone tempered by a creamy lyricism; and Eliana Pretorian is a seamlessly duplicitous Norina. Significantly, the orchestral playing gains a wonderful lift and loving detail under Duncan Ward, making a striking Glyndebourne debut.

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This may not be the funniest Don Pasquale, but it is one of the deftest and most absorbing