Donizetti’s Poliuto at Glyndebourne

Poliuto at Glyndebourne, the 20th Donizetti opera I have seen – only 55 to go! It is based on Corneille’s play Polyeucte which was a set text for my French A Level. The librettto swings, sometimes, awkwardly between love and loyalty, passion and betrayal, religious martyrdom and political intolerance. Marianne Clément and her designer Julia Hansen justifiably simplified all this by a staging which focussed on the characters and chorus appearing between massive moving columns on an otherwise bare stage and with strong lighting effects (designer Bernd Purkrabek) to project their various predicaments. The setting of a 1950s totalitarian regime enhanced, rather than distracted from, the drama. As so often when encountering these rarer Donizetti pieces, I was struck by how the composer is able to supply, within a familiar format, original and engaging music.

Enrique Mazzola with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the pit provided an appropriately characterful accompaniment for a strong cast of singers. The highest praise for Ana Maria Martinez who, as Paolina, not only had the vocal technique necessary for the bel canto demands of the role, but also could vary the dynamics and colouring of delivery to convey her conflicting emotions of a woman torn between loyalty to a husband and love of another. In contrast the Poliuto of Michael Fabiano, though brilliant of voice, was two-dimensional, concentrating too much on fervent declamation and too little on characterisation. As the erstwhile lover Igor Golovatenko gave a dramatically and musically powerful performance, and their were good supporting contributions from the basses Timothy Robinson and Matthew Rose.