(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 17 November)
It’s a classic comedy story, as old as love and lust – not to mention greed – themselves. Impecunious young man wants to marry an equally badly-off young widow. His uncle threatens to disinherit him. A friend steps in to remedy the situation. Between this beginning and (sort of) conclusion there’s a vast open space for composer, librettist, stage director and designer to fill.
Marianne Clément (who staged the 2011 Glyndebourne production) and Paul Higgins (responsible for the Glyndebourne Tour revival) add some twists to the apparently simple tale. They’re abetted by designer Julia Hansen to present us with a circular red-curtained setting within which revolves three distinct personal spaces flexible enough to allow for a few more abstract ones.
Flitting between them all is John Brancy’s well-sung and acted Dr Malatesta. One feels that he would be struck off any professional medical register; there’s a tinge of Offenbach’s Dr Miracle in the way he steps from one room setting to the next. Not to mention his relationship with Eliana Pretorian’s sexy minx of a Norina, engagingly sung but leaving one wondering how quickly she will tire of Tuomas Katajala’s puppy-dog Ernesto.
There’s a slightly anachronistic air to the costumes – lots of Boucher and Fragonard erotic references but also a hint of classic 19th century French farce and even a whiff of Sofia Coppela’s 1988 Marie Antoinette. With all this engaging the eye, it would be easy to relegate Donizetti’s lilting score to the background, but the cast, the bewigged, powdered and white-silk clad chorus and the orchestra under Duncan Ward pull us back into a due sense of proportion.
José Fardilha takes the title role with true buffo style; his one-breath patter songs – including the Act III Scene I duet with Malatesta – deserve their applause. it’s a merit of this production that we oh-so-slightly care about the plights in which Don Pasquale and Ernesto find themselves rather than being mere disinterested spectators of something which, however memorable the music and accomplished the singers, is so far removed from real life. Let alone its pains and penalties.
Don Pasquale is also at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 19 November.