July 22 (Bloomberg) -- Opera productions are often updated. Backdating, now that’s a different matter.
It works a treat in Mariame Clement’s production of “Don Pasquale” at Glyndebourne. The plot of Donizetti’s comedy was originally set in the 1840s, when the piece was composed. Clement puts a neat spin on it by pushing it back into the 1780s. Suddenly it looks like “The Marriage of Figaro.”
Some roots of the opera, which is about a blustery authority figure trying to get the heroine all to himself just as in Mozart’s work, are cleverly exposed.
There’s a chance to fill the stage with fabulous Fragonard-type frocks too.
Danielle de Niese stars as Norina, a minx who pretends to be an innocent ingenue in order to teach old Pasquale a lesson. She gives a lesson herself, in showing how to convey emotion with precision and detail. She’s funny and keeps a hint of mystery.
Alessandro Corbelli is a delight as Pasquale, and does his buffo routines beautifully. He finds some pathos in the role, inviting you to feel sorry for such a delusional old man.
One of Clement’s innovations is to suggest that Norina is in love not just with the tenor hero Ernesto. She’s also in love with the fixer (baritone Nikolay Borchev) who sets up the pretense subterfuge.
This twist doesn’t work so well, partly because Borchev lacks the skills to make his character worthy of such a livewire Norina. Partly it’s due to the director’s occasional fuzziness of tone. The switches between serious and funny don’t always come off, leaving behind moments which are neither.
There was compensation in the handsome presence of young Sicilian tenor Enea Scala, who stood in for an indisposed Alek Shrader as Ernesto. Blessed with a high and easy lyric voice, he’s sure of some more major roles in the future.
There’s sensationally sparky conducting from Enrique Mazzola too. Glyndebourne’s on a roll. Rating: ****.
Theater company Punchdrunk has become famous for its site-specific immersive events, such as “Sleep No More” in New York. The latest, “The Drowned Man,” takes place in a large mail sorting office near Paddington Station, London.
The set, over four floors, conjures up a surreal American town with a film studio sometime in the early 1960s. You can wander round darkened corridors, shops, apartments and film lots at will. Sometimes you’ll come across actors performing scenes.
Every audience member will have a different experience of the show. The trouble is that the performers, disconnected from any coherent narrative, have to rely on frantic overacting to create interest in their fragmented scenes. It gives you even less reason to get emotionally involved with them.
There are some murders at the end, and the whole thing is based on Buchner’s “Woyzeck.” Who cares? Ultimately it’s a cold and patronizing piece -- the opposite of immersive, in fact. Rating: **.
“Don Pasquale” is in repertoire at Glyndebourne. http://www.glyndebourne.com +44-12273-815000.
“The Drowned Man” is at “Temple Studios.” For information: http://bit.ly/15uj615 or +44-20-7452-3000.
Muse highlights include Hephzibah Anderson on books, John Mariani on wine, Greg Evans on television and Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night.
What the Stars Mean: ***** Excellent **** Very good *** So-so ** Mediocre * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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