Donizetti at Glyndebourne is a thoroughly excellent way to spend an evening

24 May 2015, 12:15 | Updated: 27 May 2015, 09:37

Our Social Media Editor heads to the Sussex countryside for a look at the opening of the 2015 festival, and a thorough assessment of their production of Donizetti's Poliuto, the Bel Canto and the picnics.

What is all this Glyndebourne?

For anyone who doesn't know quite what this whole Glyndebourne arrangement is, essentially it's this: don your finest clothes (optional) > arrive mid-afternoon > leisurely picnic > first and sometimes second acts of fantastic opera > lovely long interval picnic > remaining acts of fantastic opera > little drinkie at the bar > final sunset selfies > get home at a very respectable hour. It's all hugely welcoming, the opera's great, with a real emphasis on the finest up-and-coming singers. And there are even £30 ticket for under-30s.

And of course it's a chance to blow up your friends' social media timelines with pics to make them wildly jealous of your operatic good-fortune and elegance.

But we were not there just to review the picnics

After you've enjoyed that sun, smashed that picnic and uploaded your Instagrams, it's time to head into the opera house itself. There's not really a bad seat in the house, and you're really close to the action. The stage is right in front of you and the sound is immediate and quite thrilling - so there's no chance to sleep off that lovely long lunch.


#ViewFromTheStage #Glyndebourne

A photo posted by Sophie (@eirensoph) onMay 12, 2015 at 1:23am PDT


The (condensed) story of Poliuto

The Governor's daughter Paolina is (rather unhappily) married to Poliuto, and old-flame Severo is back on the scene. Basically it's a massive love-triange - but to complicate things even more, there's a whole religious angle too. Poliuto has converted to Christianity, and people aren't too happy about that sort of thing. Cue two hours of very satisfying action around forbidden bedroom encounters, passionate embraces, angry mobs, beatings, torture and death. All very dramatic. 

And now to the music and staging

There are cracking melodies throughout - really cracking - with plenty of memorable lines to sink your ears into, and and good smattering of feel-great high notes. It's Bel Canto, so the composer wants to make stars of the singers on the stage, rather than those in the orchestra - so don't get your hopes up for a symphonic epic. Instead sit back and enjoy lots of amazing of death-defying vocal leaps and runs over patient pizzicato in the cellos.

Poliuto (Michael Fabiano) and Paolina (Ana María Martínez). Photor: Tristram Kenton

In the festival's production, third century Armenia is swapped for Mussolini’s Italy and a sea of monochrome, trenchcoats and hats. Everything was dominated by floor-to-ceiling grey blocks, which all moved around like a massive, perplexing game of concrete Jenga. Add the occasional piece of furniture, and that was it. Oh, and there were projections like this one, which looked pretty smashing...

Callistene (Matthew Rose). Photo: Tristram Kenton

The review-y bit...

It was a fabulous line-up of singers. The night's star tenor Michael Fabiano took to the stage with an attractive, powerful voice, just oozing Donizetti. Ana María Martíez played the torn Paolina, which could easily have been a thankless role (every second line she sang was 'I wish I were dead'), but she was smashing; great tone and amazing coloratura. The finale, where both Michael and Ana finally let rip, was absolutely jaw-dropping. The love triangle was completed with a round, silky baritone belonging to Igor Golovatenko, who also deserved his applause, as did Bass Matthew Rose, who played the night's villain Callistene and was in fabulously rich (and appropriately scary) voice. 

The chorus sounded huge - really loud and seriously frightening when necessary, proving themselves the perfect mob for that scary baddie Callistene. Down in the pit was the festival's ever-superb resident orchestra, the London Philharmonic - let's not forget that it's Donizetti, so they spent most of the night plucking away, but did light things up with colour and drama when they needed to.

Overall? The singing made us:

What should you do?

So how does this affect you? If you're keen to pack your hamper and head to Sussex, looks like there are still a few tickets remaining. Very much recommended. You can also catch other performances from the 2015 Glyndebourne festival (including Carmen, Mozart and a brace of Ravel) at the cinema or via their wonderful streaming service.