Daniel Slater’s production of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore is as high-spirited an opera performance as you could wish to see, writes Ronald Simpson.
It boasts distinguished musical values allied to a splendidly irreverent production style well suited to what is a pretty high-spirited and irreverent piece of work in the first place.
Felice Romani’s libretto skilfully manipulates a fairly traditional plot. Nemorino, a simple village youth, spends his time in hopeless adoration of local beauty Adina who ignores his advances. Two strangers arrive and transform the lives of Nemorino and Adina. Sergeant Belcore tries to swagger his way to the altar with Adina and Dulcamara, a quack doctor, provides Nemorino with a potion to make all women love him. It is, in fact, cheap red wine and has the effect of making Nemorino boldly, then tearfully, drunk.
There are no prizes for guessing who eventually gets the girl!
Daniel Slater and his designer Robert Innes Hopkins are masters of the update in opera production. This production, originally from 2000 and coming up fresh as paint in this revival directed by Slater himself, takes the hint of Adina’s slightly higher class a stage further and makes her the proprietor of the Hotel Adina, Nemorino being a humble waiter.
The period is the 1950s, Belcore – now a naval officer – and his crew arrive on Vespas and Dulcamara lands on the hotel terrace by hot air balloon. Apart from one unlikely moment when Adina chases away her customers, it all works with perfect consistency, pointing up the characters’ relationships better than a generic village setting.
The Opera North chorus likes nothing better than the opportunity to register as individual characters and the direction of the opening scene – with the terrace filling with sophisticated sun-worshippers, the village priest and doctor, an other-worldly poet, a black-clad peasant grandmother and all the rest, plus the kitchen and waiting staff of the hotel – is masterly. So, too, is the treatment of the pre-wedding celebrations.
Gabriella Istoc (Adina) and Jung Soo Yun (Nemorino) are known to Opera North audiences solely in tragic parts and both reveal an unexpected talent for comedy. Jung, in particular, delights in matching his stylish Italianate tenor with sad-faced clowning and increasingly frenetic physical comedy. Istoc keeps (and loses) her dignity with panache while singing with great flexibility and control.
Duncan Rock’s preening and elegantly sung Belcore avoids all possible boorishness and roughness of delivery and Richard Burkhard similarly is a Dulcamara without buffo excesses. Smartly bespatted, he brings a slyly subtle agility and wit to the part. Fflur Wyn carries more authority than many a Giannetta (Adina’s friend and companion) and Freddie Butterfield is Dulcamara’s chirpily imitative young assistant.
Conductor Tobias Ringborg keeps a light touch whilst exercising perfect control over the many animated ensembles.
L’Elisir d’Amore plays the Grand Theatre, Leeds, until February 27 before touring to Newcastle, Nottingham and Salford Quays.