I didn't come to this performance expecting much, but after yesterday's Rinaldo disappointment, I was once again bowled by the quality of this evening at Glyndebourne: the attention to detail in the production, the singing, the comedy - Glyndebourne have made something really special here.
This Annabel Arden production, a revival, is set in the 50s (I think opera directors need to be told that other decades are available for updating into as well) in a Mediterranean village square, and though this makes the quack potion seller around which the plot is centred far less credible, it doesn't matter at all, because a) it's a Donizetti comedy, and b) it's done with so much love and warmth and style that you can't help but be carried away by it. What's so surprising about this opera is how good the libretto is - in a good production like this one, it provides a brilliant and insightful (not to mention genuinely witty) commentary on the nature of human lust, love and relationships. It helps when the acting and direction is as detailed and subtle as it is here, and against the odds I really felt that I was watching believable characters on stage. All this from a Donizetti comedy - not the place you usually go for insight into the human condition! Musically, this is far from my favourite bel canto score it has to be said, but I almost forgot this tonight - and the cast were very good.
First: Danielle de Niese as Adina. I have listened to and not enjoyed her three recital discs - some of the singing is really very poor. But tonight it was almost like a different voice and I've never heard her sing so well. She started out rather tweety sounding, the vibrato very narrow and fast (nerves?), but she got better and better as the night went on, the sound relaxing and opening out, and by the second half she was on fire. In fact, as the music got harder she got better, and in the virtuosic final scene where she declares her love for Nemorino, she was easily better than anyone in the Rinaldo production I had seen the night before. I think she has improved a lot in the last year - I was seriously impressed and surprised. She's also a fantastic stage animal, moving so naturally, acting beautifully, vocally as well as physically, and of course she's absolutely gorgeous (even more so on stage than in real life I think). She really is close to being the ideal Adina, with the requisite sexual confidence, coquettishness and vulnerability to make the role really convincing and even interesting, and as she proved here, she's exactly right vocally too. I'm a total convert after being extremely skeptical. What a talent.
Stephen Costello is a very decent singer, and delivered some of the most pingy tenor singing as Nemorino that I've heard in a while, though the voice is too intense most of the time for my taste, and the tone isn't varied all that much. The other annoying thing is that he slides up to virtually every high note above a D, starting it the semitone below without vibrato, staying there for a quarter of a beat, then moving to the proper note. Una furtiva lagrima was well sung, but this vocal mannerism spoiled it for me. He plays the part well - dumb but ardent, and inviting real pity (in a way that Pavarotti could just NEVER manage). And nice to finally hear a tenor who can actually sing a role for a change - haven't experienced too many of them this season - so I don't want to complain too much!
Paolo Gavanelli shouted his way through too much of the role of Dr Dulcamara, but is fine, and does what's required for the laughs. In this production he has an assistant (played by James Bellorini) who communicates only in mime, and we realise why he's so good at conning people: he's a showman and a performer, and Arden extends the idea of his story telling "performance" aria/duet with Adina, to a few of his other numbers, always supported dramatically by the antics of his assistant. It's a nice touch and one that makes the characters far more appealing.
The Glyndebourne chorus were on very good form as were the London Philharmonic under Enrique Mazzola - simple and uncluttered, letting the voices shine and the action speak for itself.
I (and as far as I could judge, everyone else) left the theatre feeling uplifted and delighted, and above all surprised - that this old warhorse could feel so fresh and alive again, that it could be done so tellingly, and also that De Niese was so fantastic. Highly recommended.