First performed in 1832 – and heralded from the get go as a triumph – Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore romcom miraculously still makes an audience laugh out loud. Much of this must be its timeless story – the search for everlasting love with the help of a love potion – told simply to a happy ending. And director Laurent Pelly brings out the best of it, with the revival director Paul Higgins adding humour and individual expression that allows the cast and chorus to deliver a production that is deliciously irrepressibly funny, happy and romantic.
The story in opera is generally not the point. For the record, in this one country boy Nemorino is determined to win the haughty (and landed) Adina’s heart. She won’t give him the time of day, and he appeals to wheeler-dealer quack doctor Dulcamara to intercede with an elixir of love – actually, a half-bottle of Bordeaux wine. Very nearly losing his love to army sergeant Belcore, fuelling jealous tantrums from both prospective lovers when they believe the other is ignoring them, Nemorino and Adina recognise their love just in time.
Much more to the point, the music – and, these days in modern opera, the acting. And in that, both cast and chorus, absolutely nail it. Armenian tenor Liparit Avetisyan brings both a fine voice and hilarious comic acting, with myriad facial and body gestures that leave us in no doubt of his despair at his frustrated efforts to get Adina to embrace his love and his delight at finally winning her heart. His rendition of Una furtiva lacrima (a furtive tear) – the point he realises Adina’s heart has softened – is the most gentle, romantic embrace of love you will ever hear. Matched in voice and breadth of gesture by American soprano Nadine Sierra, their scenes together offer an excellent comic double act.
Originally billing Bryn Terfel as Doctor Dulcamara, the Welsh opera-wonder ducked out (less of a surprise than it should be; he’s got form). Instead, and stepping in at the very last minute, the role was sung by Ambrogio Maestri. One of today’s most acclaimed baritones, the Italian last performed the role of Doctor Dulcamara in this production for The Royal Opera in 2012, and he has also performed the role at the Metropolitan Opera, New York and Opéra de Paris. He was brilliant! Another natural comedy character.
Opera can be a bit off-putting to the uninitiated. If there was ever a place to start, this production of L’Elisir d’Amore is surely it. The opera is being screened at the Corn Exchange, Newbury on Sunday 8th October.
Photos by kind permission of The Royal Opera House