L’elisir d’amore – Opera in two Acts to a libretto by Felice Romani after Eugene Scribe’s libretto for Auber’s Le Philtre [sung in Italian with English surtitles]
Adina – Samantha Clarke
Nemorino – John-Colyn Gyeantey
Belcore – Nicholas Lester
Dulcamara – Richard Walshe
Giannetta – Tereza Gevorgyan
Dulcamara’s Assistant – James Bellorini
West Green House Chorus & Orchestra
Matthew Kofi Waldren
Victoria Newlyn – Director
Adrian Linford – Designer
Sarah Bath – Lighting Designer
Aly Fielden & Elizabeth Cooke – Costume supervisor
Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers
Reviewed: 30 July, 2022
Venue: West Green House Gardens, Hartley Wintney, Hampshire, England
Victoria Newlyn’s production of Donizetti’s comic opera (1832) makes good use of West Green’s ‘theatre on the lake’, positioned upon the island in the latter, and fronting on to the water. It transposes the action to a cruise boat, effectively and attractively recreated on stage so that, at the rear, one side of the vessel more neatly blocks off the orchestra than in the same festival’s production of The Marriage of Figaro the previous week, where they were more awkwardly sprawled across it. At the front, the ship’s deck remains open to the water (and to the audience beyond it) so that the travelling quack salesman Dulcamara is piloted across the lake in a rowing boat and brought aboard, eventually leaving by the same means.
As floating palaces of pleasure, it is appropriate that much of the production colourfully and slickly evokes the sort of cabaret acts that typically feature as the entertainment on such cruises. Some may regret that the work is not generally probed more deeply for any ideas it may yield; and, insofar as the setting here amounts to a wider concept, it means that some of the comings and goings on stage are not quite consistent with the original (landbound) scenario. That said, seeing as the opera makes satirical reference to the mediaeval legend of Tristan and Isolde (which, contrariwise, involves a real love potion, and ends with fatal consequences) the waterborne setting completes the ironic parallels with that story, as will be recalled from Wagner’s treatment (a quarter of a century later than Donizetti’s work, and after that composer’s death): just as the elixir there is administered during the ominous crossing from Ireland to Cornwall where Isolde is to wed King Mark, so this comedy also plays out on the water as Adina and Nemorino manage to overcome their misunderstandings and squabbles. Otherwise the boating context is fairly inconsequential.
Samantha Clake sings with transparent lightness, and if there could be more room for skittish, flighty humour in the music to match her stage persona, her vocal lines are often picked out with notes of bell-like clarity. As her lover, John-Colyn Gyeantey starts out with a somewhat gravelly voice, but he blossoms into full-blown lyrical ardour for the opera’s most famous number ‘Una furtiva lagrima’, clinching musically his suitability as Adina’s chosen partner.
Nicholas Lester and Richard Walshe bring pantomime buffoonery to the roles, respectively, of Nemorino’s rival, Belcore, and Dulcamara, inciting the West Green House Chorus to similarly lively displays of musical and choreographic razzmatazz. Matthew Kofi Waldren leads the Orchestra in an account of the score that lightly sparkles but does not detract from the rapport among the singers, and so discreetly nudges along each change of pace or mood without portentous contrast. In all, this is an evening of untroubling and well executed entertainment, that it would be churlish to complain about the lack of any more intricate dialogue between the original work (with its sometimes-subtle modifications of the opera buffa genre) and this updated interpretation of it.