Few companies allow the owner’s wife a leading role; Glyndebourne is different. In 1934, the boss’s wife was the raison d’être for setting up an opera company, and no one could accuse the current Mrs Christie – Danielle de Niese – of getting preferential treatment. Five years ago, when she first sang Handel’s Cleopatra (Giulio Cesare), she captured Glyndebourne’s heart well before catching the boss’s eye. As her contribution to this revival of Donizetti’s comedy emphasises, she is a born performer, and Glyndebourne is right to exploit one of its most natural assets.
Whether 19th-century repertoire is de Niese’s territory is an open question. She has clearly put a lot of work into the role of Adina, and it pays off in the technically demanding vocal runs. In the first act, she is very much the Angelina Jolie of the Downs, all pin-up poses, while in the second she becomes the Sussex Netrebko, the soprano whose vitality and charm enraptures her public. But the voice sounds small and stretched, especially at the top, and there is none of the wow factor that distinguished her Handel and Monteverdi.
It is a pity Annabel Arden has not adapted her 2007 production to make more of de Niese’s gift for movement. The humour is understated. There is little pathos and not a whiff of irony, despite the modestly updated setting. The staging has one bright idea, which is to have Dulcamara setting out his stall with a slideshow. Otherwise, it conforms to Glyndebourne’s policy of remaining safely in its audience’s comfort zone.
Stephen Costello makes an uncharismatic Nemorino: there is little sweetness in a voice that seems incapable of singing at anything other than a standard forte. Paolo Gavanelli lends the solid weight of Italian tradition to Dulcamara, and Rodion Pogossov is the decent Belcore. The most musically satisfying performance comes from the pit, where Enrique Mazzola, conducting the superbly drilled London Philharmonic, keeps the music buoyant and on the move.