Don Pasquale, Glyndebourne, GFO, July 2017

What a pleasure to see Mariam Clément’s 2013 Festival production revived. On its revolving stage, split into three rooms, we see the charming Dr. Malatesta of Moldovan baritone Andrey Zhilikhovsky flitting like a spirit at the start of the performance.

Malatesta and Pasquale, all images GFO/ Bill Cooper

Malatesta is the soul of this opera, a Figaro-like character whose deceptions are the essence of the plot, and the bubble bath episode in this production alludes to a curiously close friendship between him and Norina. The wit, knowingness and vocal skill that Zhilikhovsky and American soprano Lisette Oropesa — a regular at the Met in New York — bring to the performance really carry the day. Renato Girolami as Pasquale himself presents a somewhat witless older man, while Andrew Stenson as his nephew Ernesto is seen in his bedroom with a rocking horse, two teddy bears and a guitar. This background for his excellent Act I soliloquy Sogno soave e casto (sweet and chaste dream), where he says farewell to his hopes of an inheritance he can share with his beloved Norina, is the key to the production. Norina has charmed him into a marriage so she can live on Pasquale’s inheritance, keep him under her thumb, and carry on her affair with Malatesta — an interesting slant on the opera!

Norina and Malatesta

Like Richard Strauss’s Schweigsame Frau, this Donizetti work originates from Ben Johnson’s play The Silent Woman, where the young lovers contrive a ruse to get the old man to allow their marriage, abandon his own ridiculous marriage intentions, and leave the intended inheritance to his nephew. The young lady will take on the role of the old man’s new wife in a bogus marriage and roundly abuse her position as the lady of the house by mocking his age and hiring servants aplenty. Here the servants are a chorus dressed in eighteenth century costumes, watching the drama unfold. An old man is relieved of his money, an interpretation 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.

Malatesta, Norina, Pasquale

Bringing to life this intriguing take on the opera was Giacomo Sagripanti with the London Philharmonic. His tempi and sensitivity to the singers, allowing them space to fully express themselves, were exceptional — no wonder he won the Young Conductor prize at the 2016 International Opera Awards. Having seen this production four years ago, this second view gave a deeper understanding of the director’s intentions, making this second visit all the more rewarding.

Norina and Pasquale after the fake marriage

Performances continue on various dates until August 23 — for details click here.

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