Tuesday, May 28

Donizetti’s Don Pasquale – Liverpool Empire

To finish their touring run for 2021, Glyndebourne have saved the best for last with Donizetti’s great comedy serving as a masterclass in pretty much everything with Mariame Clément’s eye-catching production brought back to life under revival director Paul Higgins.

Elderly bachelor Don Pasquale (Ricardo Seguel) is fussed over by his servant (Anna-Marie Sullivan) as he awaits his friend, Dr Malatesta (Konstantin Suchkov), who has arranged a marriage for him to the beautiful and innocent Sofronia, who just happens to be Malatesta’s sister, and even has the Notary (Tom Mole) lined up to seal the deal.

Yet, Don Pasquale reminds his nephew, Ernesto (Konu Kim), this is not how it’s meant to be, giving him one last chance to wed a wealthy young lady on pain of disinheritance if he declines. But our angst-ridden teenager is much in love with the poor Norina (Mariam Battistelli) and so refuse he must.

With characters drawn from the commedia dell’arte tradition, you know there’s something more at play as tough lessons in life and love are teased out much to the amusement of those in on the gag which includes the audience.

The use of a tripartite revolving set provides a perfect fly-on-the-wall view of all that goes on behind closed doors, whether that be the elegant quarters of the Don through to Ernesto’s cluttered bedroom or even Norina’s grotty bedsit complete with a bathtub sized for two. Characters deftly move between spaces taking full advantage of a cleverly thought-out set and choreography, with great use of colour and texture within scenes as well as the costumes from designer Julia Hansen, perfectly balanced with Bernd Purkrabek’s lighting and use of shadow.

Credit: Robbie Jack

The cast performed strongly finding the right balance between our desire to see the Don taught a much-needed lesson whilst still evoking our sympathy for him given the manner in which it was going to be taught. The orchestra, conducted by Johann Stuckenbruck, were lively and high-spirited in their embracement of the piece, so much so that in many of the standout moments such as the quartet in Act II or Seguel and Suchkov ‘conspiring’ to catch the bride out in Act III, it was as if they were another player on the stage. The chorus, under the direction of Aidan Oliver, rose to the occasion equally well as they seized and relished every opportunity to impress.

For a piece where all is not as it seems, Seguel gave a perfectly nuanced performance as a likeable and dislikeable old goat whilst Suchkov did the impossible and delivered the most likeable nasty piece of work one can imagine. With Moss a commendable Notary, a special mention for Sullivan who in a completely non-speaking role, gave us tragedy, comedy, and everything in-between in a real nod to the commedia roots of this piece.

Kim’s tight teenager at the start gave way to a powerful performance with good attention to text and tone, as well as softer aspects captured in his picnic duet with Battistelli, which included a delightful comedic interplay with the chorus. And Battistelli, where do you start? I, along with everyone else, was blown away by her vocal fireworks and exquisite trills. Throw in some fantastic comic timing and she’s a stage diva I’d watch again and again.

We’ve had a difficult eighteen months, none more so than those involved in the performing arts, and whatever new challenges the next few weeks and months may bring, Glyndebourne have done what they do so well and left many a smile on many a face, just when it is needed.

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 3rd December 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★