Glyndebourne Festival’s production of Donizetti’s Poliuto in Mariame Clément’s staging comes over rather better on DVD than it did in the theatre where its rather monumental set and somewhat predictable use of video dampened the narrative. Nonetheless it doesn’t quite tick all the boxes – except on musical grounds.
Clément’s setting is a contemporary affair set in a Balkan-esque totalitarian state, at war, rather than the original, set in Rome-administered Armenia. The focus on religious martyrdom in an oppressive country has clear modern resonance, though the formulaic nature of this bel canto opera doesn’t always chime with modern sets, and some of the action is contrived.
Donizetti comes out well though for this is a fine score, full of great arias and ensembles, and Glyndebourne assembled a cast capable of delivering the music extremely well. The title role is sung by Michael Fabiano – a superb vocalist. The high-lying role holds no terrors for him, but there’s a distinct lack of dynamic subtlety, making the interpretation somewhat wearisome. Dramatically, he characterises well as the Christian convert Poliuto who is eventually executed by the regime led by his wife Paolina’s former husband Severo, believed dead, who returns at the head of an invading force.
Paolina is beautifully sung and affectingly portrayed by Ana Maria Martinez in a grandiose fashion and with an outstanding voice that possesses a dark timbre to suit the agonies of the character. The DVD is worth having for her contribution alone. Igor Golovatenko sings Severo with burnished and beautiful tone, and is dramatically compelling also. Matthew Rose also stands out as the priest Callistene.
The London Philharmonic and Glyndebourne Chorus make important contributions and Enrique Mazzola skilfully keeps the music flowing, relishing its originality and keeping the dramatic temperature up! He’s also adept at demonstrating the influence that this and later works by Donizetti had on his successors, especially Verdi. The woodwind and brass sections of the LPO had a good night! The recorded sound is very immediate.
As usual with Opus Arte there is an informative booklet and also interesting extras on the DVD – including an interview with the director. It is good to have this version of a historically important work for the stage.