REVIEW: Glyndebourne’s Don Pasquale

Don Pasquale
Don Pasquale

For the past 16 years, the world famous Glyndeboune opera company has graced Milton Keynes Theatre as part of its annual tour and last night (Tuesday) it performed Gaetano Donizetti’s popular comic opera ‘Don Pasquale’ as the first of a trio of separate productions.

Directed by Mariame Clément, this opulent period staging catches the sparkling essence of the Italian composer and his tuneful tale which features an ageing bachelor whose romantic delusions see him outwitted and deceived by two young lovers.

Pasquale is superbly played by Portuguese baritone José Fardilha who has hopes of marrying a much younger woman with which to produce an heir… but his nephew Ernesto (played by Finnish tenor Tuomas Katajala) has other ideas after he falls for Norina (Romanian soprano Eliana Pretorian).

With cunning plans too numerous to mention, a trick marriage takes place while the plot thickens then twists back on itself.

Pasquale’s supposed friend Doctor Malatesta (John Brancy) assists Ernesto and Norina in a complex and increasingly vindictive deception in which the cunning medic gets Pasquale to marry his so called sister ‘Sofronia’ – but it’s really Norina – while the notary (a lawyer) is really a fake. However ‘Sofronia’ lands Pasquale with so many bills for hats and gowns that he soon wants to be rid of her, especially after she announces that she now owns half of everything he has.

Then upon discovering that Sofronia/Norina is about to secretly meet her lover Ernesto in the garden, Pasquale and the doctor try to catch the pair but the young male lover races away just in time.

But just as you would expect, it all turns out fine in the end with everyone back on good terms, Pasquale forgives the pair after he himself gets chance of marry another as her replacement!

Donizetti (1797-1848) was responsible for some 70 operas and in Don Pasquale, the witty musical score combines graceful lyricism in what is a rollicking comedy fuelled by the seductive rhythm of the waltz.

The singing by the leading four is powerful and flawless and with just six principals in the actual story – Timothy Nelson plays A Notary and Anne-Marie Sulllivan is Pasquale’s servant – the 38-strong Glyndebourne Tour Chorus also make an appearance all dressed white (with wigs to match) while the fabulous 57-piece orchestra under conductor Duncan Ward helps bring the whole production to life.

The clever set is based on a roundabout stage which rotates to take the audience into various rooms in Pasquale’s house – including a bathroom in which Norina climbs into a bubble filled bath.

With the opera company spending a week in Milton Keynes, it’s a huge logistical operation for beside all the props and costumes – and there are simply hundreds of them! – there are 18 principal cast members, another 38 in the Glyndebourne chorus plus four children, nine actors and six dancers along with those 57 brilliant musicians.

The whole show is sung in Italian but thanks to Ian Julier’s supertitles – which are displayed above the stage – the action is easy to follow even for a opera novice like me. In fact when I mentioned to my son-in-law that i was going to Milton Keynes to see the opera Don Pasquale, he said in all seriousness that he hadn’t realised that the squeaky voiced comedian Joe Pasquale could sing!

Tonight (Wednesday) it’s the turn of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s three-act opera ‘Die Entfuhrung aus den Serail’ (The Abduction from the Seraglio) while tomorrow (Thursday) Don Pasquale returns for a matinee performance at 2pm.

Then on Thursday evening there is another three-act opera, George Friderc Handel’s biblical drama ‘Saul’ while on Saturday evening at 7.15pm, Mozart’s ‘Serail’ opera gets another airing. Ticket can be booked by calling the box office on 0844 871 7652 or online at www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes