Donizetti’s Italian opera Don Pasquale has arrived in Norwich on its Glyndebourne tour for the very first time. Under the direction of Mariame Clément, the comedy tells the story of Don Pasquale who has disinherited his nephew because he is in love with the flirtatious Norina. Her brother, the manipulative Dr Malatesta, casts revenge on the old bachelor and tricks him into marrying Norina, making her entitled to half of his fortune. As her materialistic nature is exposed, a series of comic events follow as Don Pasquale gets more and more bewildered by his demanding wife.
This comedy, first premiered at the Theatre Italien in 1843, is not as remote from our world as it seems. The stereotypical characters are not unrecognisable: Norina is obsessed with spending money, Don Pasquale is an old man seeking a young, attractive wife, and Ernesto resembles a sulky teenager with a messy bedroom to match. Mariame Clément saw its modern potential, but claiming that “the loss of elegance would be too great” she decided to place the 19th Century opera in an 18th Century setting, cladding her characters out in magnificent traditional costumes.
Not only did the actors have spectacular voices but they acted exceptionally well, making the plot easy to follow. The revolving set created an imaginative way of seeing all the action simultaneously and the chorus provided welcome commentary throughout. The chorus, who were originally cast as servants, were transformed by Clement into glamorous socialites. Dressed in all white traditional costume, it was almost as if they were watching an opera within an opera.
Jonathan Veira, who played Don Pasquale was particularly excellent; his theatrical portrayal of the old fool didn’t fail to translate the comedy that was intended. His fast-paced duet with Andrei Bondarenko, who played Dr Malatesta, impressively stood out and completely absorbed the audience. There is no denying that Don Pasquale is as funny now as it was in 1843.