The Elixir of Love (L’elisir d’amore)
Melodramma giocoso in two acts by Gaetano Donizetti to a libretto by Felice Romani, after Eugène Scribe’s text for Daniel-François-Esprit Auber’s Le philtre (1831);
Opera Australia, Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House, August 11th, 2014.
After a very popular and beautifully executed season of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale in 2013, Opera Australia’s revival of Donizetti’s other comic masterpiece The Elixir of Love, opened in Sydney last week. This Simon Phillips conception set in an Australian town circa 1915, was first seen in Melbourne in 2001, but its humour and context are as crisp as ever.
Opera Australia has retained its winning formula from Don Pasquale including conductor Guillaume Tourniaire, Rachelle Durkin, (Adina/Norina in Don Pasquale), Conal Coad (Dulcamara/title role in Don Pasquale) and Samuel Dundas (Belcore/Dr Malatesta in Don Pasquale). Durkin, Coad and Dundas are singers who can entertain not just with excellent singing but with innate comic talent as well. Along with Aldo di Toro as Nemorino and Katherines Wiles as Giannetta, cast and characters create a superb match.
Sadly on opening night, Rachelle Durkin was indisposed – a scenario which has been the making of many a ‘cover’ and Jane Ede stepped into the role at short notice with great aplomb and assuredness, staking her claim to major roles in the future.
The Elixir of Love premiered in 1832, was a tremendous success and went on to be the most often performed opera in Italy between 1838 and 1848. Malibran played the role of Adina at its La Scala premiere in 1835. Toscanini conducted its revival there in 1900 with Caruso as Nemorino.
‘Elixir’s’ essence, (pardon the pun) is to retain the credibility and humanity of Donizetti’s characters without allowing them to descend into slapstick or caricature. Aldo di Toro sang the role of Nemorino with the naive sincerity of a country lad whose every anguished ‘furtive tear’ was palpable.
Jane Ede portrayed Adina with a flirtatious coloratura; Samuel Dundas’ Belcore was pompous and swaggering, and Conal Coad was perfection as the conniving quack.
At first glance, the juxtaposition of the high art of bel canto with the simplicity of the rural setting might have seemed mismatched, but the combination soon makes sense as the truths and twists of life hold true regardless of the setting. Gabriela Tylesova’s costumes appear layered with brushstrokes in the colours of the bush; corrugated iron is the surface of choice for the scenery and props, replete with icons of the outback, conveying the unpolished modesty of country life; the ubiquitous bottle of Coca-Cola (the real thing) is the elixir being peddled; the soundscape is replete with dogs barking, cows mooing and sheep bleating at opportune moments; Nemorino sings his aria Una furtiva lagrima with the chook cage as a backdrop. Simon Phillips’ surtitles are informal and funny drawing great amusement from the audience.
After the premiere of ‘Elixir’ the critic for the Gazzetta privilegiata di Milano wrote:
“The composer was applauded for every piece, and when the curtain fell…he was acclaimed time and again with the singers…. The musical style of this score is lively, brilliant, truly of the comic genre. ….Instrumentation that is always brilliant ….discloses the work of a great master, accompanies a vocal line now lively, now brilliant, now passionate.”
Opera that is fun and relevant.
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©
The Elixir of Love plays in the Joan Sutherland Theatre of the Sydney Opera House on selected evenings till August 31.