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Alessandro Corbelli as Don Pasquale [Photo by Clive Barda]
19 Jul 2013

Don Pasquale, Glyndebourne

Donizetti’s late comedy Don Pasquale debuted in Paris in 1843 and has been popular ever since. It was produced at the Glyndebourne Festival in 1938 but, rather surprisingly, Mariame Clement’s 2013 production, refreshingly set in the 18th century rather than being update, was the first festival production since 1938.

Don Pasquale, Glyndebourne

A review by Robert Hugill

Above: Alessandro Corbelli as Don Pasquale [Photo by Clive Barda]


Clement originally directed the opera for Glyndebourne on Tour in 2011. Now she and designer Julia Hansen have revived the production for the main festival with Alessandro Corbelli in the title role, Danielle de Niese as Norina and Nikolay Borchev making his Glyndebourne debut as Dr Malatesta. Alek Shrader, who was due to sing Ernesto, was ill and the role was sung by Enea Scala who had sung the role with Glyndebourne on Tour. Enrique Mazzola conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

The whole production was based around a revolve, displaying three different rooms, 18th century interiors with quirky modern detailing, and during the overture we saw Nikolay Borchev's Malatesta walking through each. Don Pasquale (Alessandro Corbelli) was asleep on the settee in his drawing room, his housekeeper keeping watch, Ernesto (Enea Scala) was asleep in his bedroom and Norina (Danielle de Niese) asleep at her dressing table. In each of the rooms Borchev examined everything, establishing his character's highly manipulative and rather mysterious quality. Hansen's sets had a plain elegance about them, with the interiors very spare, but each was full of quirky detailing and as Borchev moved from room to room he did not always exit via the door.

There were other quirky details to the production. Don Pasquale's rejoicing at the idea of children in the first scene was indicated by his acquiring a toy rocking horse which he carried about with him. He had a single servant/housekeeper (Anna-Marie Sullivan) and when Malatesta appeared with 'Sofronia' the housekeeper clearly thought she recognised 'Sofronia' and Malatesta shut the housekeeper in the cupboard.

Corbelli was superb as Don Pasquale, comically touching in act one rather than being objectionable. His performance was character based, and though there was plenty of comic business, we were laughing at the character not his antics. He also sang the role, no buffo bluffing here. Borchev's Malatesta was smoothly manipulative and superbly sung. Borchev made himself be almost self-effacing at times but you were aware of the way the character was manipulating everyone. We were introduced to Enea Scala's Ernesto lying on his bed, in his underwear, reading and playing the guitar. Scala looked every inch the part, though there was a little hardness to his tone. Technically his singing encompassed everything needed, but there was a lack lyric flexibility to his voice which I think is needed here.

We were also introduced to Danielle de Niese's Norina in her underwear, and she was not reading a romantic novel she was writing one. This does rather have an effect on the character, making Norina more of a schemer and less a romantic, which is on a par with Clement's view of the opera. Norina remained in her underwear when Malatesta appeared and there was clearly more than a spark between them, in fact at the end of the act the two ended up in the bath together! This goes against the strict confines of the plot, but it does make a great deal of sense to the interactions in the opera.

Don Pasquale Trailer 2013 from Glyndebourne on Vimeo.

De Niese was a great delight as Norina, her runs sparkling and with plenty of character, here was a Norina who was full of personality and charm. De Niese brought this out in the music, Donizetti's roulades were purposeful and captivating, with only a hint of hardness at the very top of the voice. Norina is a part which seems to suit her and she displayed a warm, appealing, fully rounded character; a real charmer.

Act two opened with Don Pasquale getting wigged and powdered, ready for his new wife. The result looked a bit ridiculous, and called to mind a similar scene in Death in Venice. A nice contrast to Ernesto, here Scala was touching in his short scene. The long scene where Malatesta introduces 'Sofronia' and she marries Don Pasquale, with Ernesto as witness was full of physical comedy, but also musically considered as well.All in all great fun, as this should be. James Platt, a soloist from the Glyndebourne Chorus, was the bumbling notary.

Clement and Hansen's other change was to make the chorus into bewigged 18th century aristocratic onlookers rather than servants. Clad in white with white hair and white painted faces these gave a surreal feel to act three, particularly as Clement crammed them into the set at the opening of the act. And their performance of the servants chorus was quite superb.

Click here for Gyndebourne’s podcast on Don Pasquale.

For the final scene, the duet between Scala and de Niese took place in a Watteau-like setting surrounded by other couples from the chorus.

Scala gave us a finely sung serenade, being joined by De Niese in delightful fashion. But throughout the opera, Clement had highlighted not only Malatesta's manipulativeness but the slight odd relationship the character has with Norina. Clement turned this into a fully formed relationship which took place in the gaps between the rest of the action, something the singers did brilliantly. De Niese, as Norina, was superb at showing the rather scheming minx side of the character and the result made for a nicely rich confection which was still true to Donizetti's music. Borchev was superb as Malatesta, and sang the role with an easy fluency and fine sense of line. At the end, both De Niese and Borchev made it clear that, no matter the conventional ending, their two characters were clearly going to continue their relationship.

And of course, Corbelli's Don Pasquale was a complete delight throughout. A richly detailed character, Corbelli ensured that we felt sorry for the old fool. As I have said, this was also a beautifully sung performance. He and Borchev turned in a spectacular account of the famous patter duet.

Here I must turn to the conducting of Enrique Mazzola. From the first there was a rather hard brilliance to the sound he got from the orchestra, and there were too many moments which sounded rather driven. In fact Mazzola took the patter duet at quite a lick. Corbelli and Borchev coped supebly, but the result seemed over done. Mazzola got some finely brilliant playing from the orchestra but he seemed to push too much and there were too few moments when he allowed things to relax.

The production is being broadcast live in cinemas on 6 August 2013, further information from the Glyndebourne website.

Clement and Hansen brought a quirky brilliance as well as a nicely humanising touch to the production, reflecting the way Donizetti's music gives the stock characters a depth. Clement's twists to the plot did not quite give us the Don Pasquale Donizetti wrote, but they provided an imaginative commentary on it. Clement and her cast made us laugh with the characters, but to care for them as well. We were treated to some fine characterful singing, bringing Donizetti's music to life, if only Mazzola had relaxed a bit.

Robert Hugill

Cast and production information:

Alessandro Corbelli: Don Pasquale, Danielle de Niese: Norina; Enea Scala: Ernesto; James Platt: Notary, Anna-Marie Sullivan: Servant. Enrique Mazzola: Conductor. Mariame Clement: Director. Julia Hansen: Designer. Bernd Purkrabek: Lighting designer. London Philharmonic Orchestra. Glyndebourne Festival Opera. 18 July 2013.

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