L’Elisir d’Amore: an opera review by Michelle Coleman

November 26, 2015 by Michelle Coleman
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Classic Italian comedy, outback Australia setting: Matthew Barclay’s revival of Simon Phillips’ 2001 production of Donizetti’s popular opera buffa is sure to delight.elixir400The curtains open to reveal a rustic setting that is immediately recognisable as an idealistic reimagining of rural Australia – all bucolic charm without the harsh reality. The set by Michael Scott-Mitchell is constructed entirely of corrugated iron, complete with rolling hills, nodding sheep and noisy cows. Horses and vehicles appear and disappear on the horizon as they head up and down the hills, creating an impression of depth and distance while adding a sense of cheeky puppetry that never fails to elicit a laugh. Add to this is clever lighting design that highlights the richness of colour and bathes the stage in shafts of delicate sunshine, and beautifully painted costumes that are more artwork than garment, and the visual feast presented on stage is the highlight of the production.

If the “Australian-ness” of the production was ever in doubt, the surtitles provide the final seal of authenticity. The loose translation from the original Italian keeps the audience informed of the antics on stage while adding to the comedy: Nemorino’s Act 1 aria “Quanto è bella” (“how beautiful she is”) is rendered as “What an absolute corker!” Another classic is Nemorino’s exclamation of “Yumbo scrumbo” upon tasting the elixir, which in this production is presented as none other than the newly introduced to Australia at the time Coca-Cola.

Both the setting and the ocker phrases are eminently suitable to the opera’s story of simple, gullible folk who believe that love can be stimulated by the drinking of a love potion, and who are easy targets for the magnetic stranger who rides into town spruiking lotions with magical properties.

Rachelle Durkin is convincing in the role of Adina and approaches her arias with a sweetness and effortlessness that endear her to the audience. However, those who had seen her stunning performance as Norina in Don Pasquale in Opera Australia’s 2014 season could not help but feel that her rendering of Adina was not her best performance.

Aldo di Toro’s Nemorino began disappointingly both musically and dramatically, but improved as the opera moved along, leading to a surprisingly beautiful and emotive “Una furtiva lagrima”.

Conal Coad as the conman Dulcamara and Christopher Hillier as Belcore were a delightful comic duo, with Coad’s energetic and gusty performance stealing the show. In her supporting lead role, Eva Kong’s Giannetta was admirable.

All in all this is a production well worth seeing, if only to enjoy the stunning setting on stage and Donizetti’s ever-popular score, played nimbly by Orchestra Victoria.

L’Elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love), Opera Australia, The Arts Centre, Melbourne

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