English National Opera – The Elixir of Love

The Elixir of Love [L’elisir d’amore] – Opera in two acts to a libretto by Felice Romani [sung in an English adaptation by Kelley Rourke]

Adina – Sarah Tynan
Nemorino – John Tessier
Belcore – David Kempster
Dr Dulcamara – Andrew Shore
Gianetta – Julia Sporsén

Chorus & Orchestra of the English National Opera
Pablo Heras-Casado

Jonathan Miller – Director
Isabella Bywater – Designs
Hans-Åke Sjöquist – Lighting design

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 12 February, 2010
Venue: The Coliseum, London

Andrew Shore and company. Photograph: Tristram KentonJonathan Miller’s new production of Donizetti’s popular comic opera, “The Elixir of Love”, and seen already at New York City Opera, had a cheery reception at the Coliseum on its opening ENO performance. It’s perfect fare for a Friday night at the end of a working week. The charming and straightforward plot is updated to occur in and around a diner in a USA backwater in a witty way whilst remaining true to the genial spirit of the piece. The single-unit revolving set surrounded by a painted cyclorama is evocative and shows this small community operating as such outposts do. There was a nice sense of everybody knowing everyone’s business, but becoming extremely curious whenever any new face arrives. I particularly liked the way the girls all reacted to the whispers of Nemorino inheriting his fortune (though the ‘queue for the ladies’ gag was slightly laboured). Above all there was a welcome recognition that the plot revolves round a serious theme without this being over-stressed.

Sarah Tynan & Julia Sporsen. Photograph: Tristram KentonThere was some very fine singing, too. The lynchpin of the performance was Andrew Shore’s ripe and ebullient confidence trickster. As ever with Shore he simply dominates the stage, and one often watches him when he is not at the forefront of the action. Every word of the translation was audible, complete with a never-flagging American accent, and even in the fastest patter every nuance of inflexion was there too. Shore deftly proves that the art of singing English and making it heard is not dead, and that comic-opera can be funny when you experience it first-hand rather than via comedy-sapping surtitles! His contribution to the Barcarolle at the start of Act Two was a particularly funny moment – one which saw Sarah Tynan’s hilarious vocal send-up of a Broadway starlet. She was an engaging and stylish Adina, here the owner of the local diner. Tynan has a bright and light voice, not as free as one would like at the very top of the range where she occasionally sounded a little taxed and perhaps a little more tonal variety is needed to make her character a tad more sympathetic at the end when Adina realises the depth of Nemorino’s commitment to her. She looked great in her costumes.

John Tessier and Andrew Shore. Photograph: Tristram KentonAs the rivals for her hand and affections David Kempster’s Belcore and John Tessier’s Nemorino were nicely contrasted. The tall Kempster dominated the stage and he caught the self-confident swagger, brashness and also the untrustworthy and jealous sides of Belcore well. His singing was notable for having a fine sense of line and agility. John Tessier was a sympathetic Nemorino. His frustration with Adina’s capricious nature was evident, but thankfully he did not overplay the effects of the alcohol. He caught perfectly how the booze can elevate one’s sense of confidence, as when he first encounters Adina after trying the Elixir for the first time and also when Gianetta and the other girls suddenly all seem to find him attractive. In contrast he also managed to evoke how this sense of confidence can be shattered in an instant. The vocal effects were handled with humour. He turned in an ingratiating and restrained ‘Una furtiva lagrima’. The members of the Chorus were on lusty form and seemed to be enjoying themselves.

In the pit there was some excellent playing too – the woodwind made much of their moment in the Prelude, and in general the sprightly string accompaniments kept the musical interest. Just occasionally the lower pitched instruments were allowed too much dominance in the textures but not worrying so – and in general debut conductor Pablo Heras-Casado was unfailingly respectful of his singers and left a good impression, though with experience he may find more variety in the textures and perhaps coax greater spaciousness in passages like Nemorino’s final aria.

All in all though this was a happy evening, notable for the ensemble qualities, but ultimately it is Andrew Shore’s classic Dulcamara that remains most firmly etched on the memory.

  • Further performances on 19 & 24 February, and 3, 5, 11, 16 & 23 March at 7.30 p.m., and on 27 February at 6.30
  • Box Office 0871 911 0200
  • English National Opera

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