Don Pasquale, Glyndebourne, July 2013

Ultimately based on Ben Jonson’s play The Silent Woman, the main character is an elderly bachelor who suddenly takes it into his head to find a young wife and raise a family. This is partly to disinherit his nephew, who refuses to marry the woman chosen for him, and the solution to this problem is a fake marriage with the woman Ernesto loves. Her extraordinarily quiet and demure appearance is belied immediately the ceremony is over. She makes his life merry hell, and he will do anything to restore tranquillity. Although having been gulled, in the end he has learned his lesson and condones his nephew’s chosen marriage.

Signing the fake marriage, all images © Clive Barda

Signing the fake marriage, all images © Clive Barda

In Donizetti’s version Don Pasquale is the main character, and it is confidant Dr. Malatesta who plots the deception with Norina, the young widow his nephew Ernesto wants to marry. He passes her off as his sister, straight out of a convent, and in this revival of the 2011 Glyndebourne Tour production by Mariame Clément, it seems he and Norina have a rather close understanding, not to say something going between them.

Malatesta and Norina

Malatesta and Norina

Malatesta is a doctor who could easily be struck off, and Nikolay Borchev gave a charming portrayal of this clever rogue. In some productions he is of a generation with Pasquale, but here he and the delightful Norina of Danielle de Niese are of similar age, and the effect is a bit a gang-up against the foolish old man. This is emphasised in the quartet at the end of Act II, where the stage turns behind the singers and we see Pasquale’s servant crying in one of the rooms. Knowing full well what is going on, she feels sorry for the old man.

The old duffer himself was very sympathetically played by Alessandro Corbelli, whose nuanced interpretation combined boyish enthusiasm with the dullness of a man showing his age. The rapid-fire patter with Malatesta in Act III, when he expects to surprise his new wife with her lover, was beautifully done by both singers, and Danielle de Niese played up the imperiousness of her fake role with great effect. As for Ernesto, I greatly regret that Alek Shrader had to pull out with a sore throat after Act II, but his replacement, Alessandro Scotto di Luzio completed the role with assurance, having previously sung it in the dress rehearsal (though the first night was sung by Enea Scala).

Chorus, Norina, Ernesto

Chorus, Norina, Ernesto

Clever designs by Julia Hansen on a revolving stage allowed Malatesta to pass like a spirit from room to room at the start, and portraying the chorus as an on-stage audience in white eighteenth century costumes gave an interesting focus on the plight of Pasquale himself. Wonderful conducting by Enrique Mazzola with the LPO gave terrific bounce to this lovely Donizetti comedy. Would that Glyndebourne would also produce the Richard Strauss version of Ben Jonson’s play, Die Schweigsame Frau.

Twelve further performances continue until August 24 — for details click here.

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