After its splendid run of L'elisir d'amore in 2019, Glyndebourne Tour has seized upon Donizetti’s other great comedy, Don Pasquale, to lighten its 2021 offerings. Mariame Clément’s eye-catching production has been in the Glyndebourne stable for a good ten years and has clearly aged well. Under revival director Paul Higgins, it is a brisk and lively affair with no trace of rust in the gears and wheels of the nifty tripartite set which rotates from Norina’s rather grotty accommodation (excluding the free-standing bathtub... with room for two!), to the rather more elegant quarters of the Don and thence into the cluttered teenage bedroom of his nephew, Ernesto. Julia Hansen’s costumes are a lavish riot of colour and texture with not a hint of a cobweb. Every hair of this revival is immaculately groomed.

Ricardo Seguel (Don Pasquale)
© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd | Photo: Robbie Jack

The sole chink in the otherwise shining armour of Clément’s production – particularly emphasised in this revival – is in its remorseless malice towards the titular toff while at the same time making him a far more sympathetic character than he might otherwise appear. By doing so, much of the joy of the comedy – a pompous bullying windbag being thoroughly deflated – is tinged with discomfort, particularly when Pasquale is placed so clearly in contrast to Ernesto. The latter is always somewhat of a drip, but here he becomes positively dislikeable, a spoilt brat of a nephew with an untidy bedroom, a surly demeanour and a distinct tendency towards teenage angst. Pasquale, by contrast, is shown as an old man in clear ill-health – the range of medications and constant clutching of the chest, acted out here with sometimes alarming realism, are a constant presence – whose ham-fisted plan to do his best for his provocative ward spirals into an ill-advised attempt at a priapic Indian Summer.

Ricardo Seguel (Don Pasquale) and Konstantin Suchkov (Malatesta)
© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd | Photo: Robbie Jack

Minor misgivings on this aside, Higgins’ recital is tightly executed and benefits from an excellent ensemble which provides a performance of bravura bel canto. Our doddering Don was sung by Ricardo Seguel whose acting was noticeable for its attention to detail and nuance. His bass-baritone is a plush, flexible instrument, noticeably warm in its lower reaches, and Seguel dispatched the famous patter duet in Act 3 with flair, the voice losing none of its power even at the music’s fastest moments. Mariam Battistelli was a feisty Norina, deploying her silver-toned soprano to vivid effect in an array of glossy trills. Generous in her ornamentation and with a clear grasp of comic timing, Battistelli made an ideal stage diva.

Konu Kim (Ernesto) and Mariam Battistelli (Norina)
© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd | Photo: Robbie Jack

Konu Kim gave a terrific, Italianate account of Ernesto; his big moments “Sogno soave e castro” and particularly “Povero Ernesto!” were sung with a real attention to the text and a bold ardent tone. The top of the voice was a little pinched early on, but relaxed as the evening progressed to display some very accomplished singing. In Clément’s production, ‘Doctor’ Malatesta is a pure agent of chaos and baritone Konstantin Suchkov played well into that reading of the character, showing an elegant legato and pointed diction as he smirked across the stage and embarked on a spontaneous bath with Norina. Tom Mole was a commendable Notary and mention must be made of the terrific acting of Anna-Marie Sullivan’s Servant (here, fulfilling the function of an entire brigade of servants as well as a live-in nurse). It’s no easy feat to play the tragic, the comic and everything in between while entirely silent; Sullivan was an excellent addition to the cast.

Mariam Battistelli (Norina) and Ricardo Seguel (Don Pasquale)
© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd | Photo: Robbie Jack

In the pit, Jonathan Bloxham led a spirited performance from the Glyndebourne Touring Orchestra, tempi well judged and balance between the players and singers spot on. In their brief appearances the Glyndebourne Chorus were on hale form, clearly relishing their assembly into a vast tea party in Act 3.  This is a production to catch, sure to leave you with a smile on your face and a lingering concern about your own old age!

****1