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S & H Opera Review

Donizetti, ‘The Elixir of Love’ English National Opera, London Coliseum, April 17th 2002. (M.E.)

 

According to the ‘Sunday Times’ critic, the current ‘must see’ in town is that other love-potion story at Covent Garden; however, he also more or less tells us that the Tristan cannot sing, so I think I’ll give that one a miss, since the work in question happens to be called ‘Tristan und…………’ Far better to go along to the crumbling old Coliseum and enjoy this frothy treat, in a production only premiered in 1998 but looking for all the world like something Jonathan Miller or David Pountney would have concocted in, oh, 1982. We are here in that so-useful world of small – town Italy – or maybe Croatia? Or Spain? Oh hell, they’re all the same, anyhow, aren’t they, with their endless dreary sub-Soviet bureaucracy, their posters flung up all over the decaying walls, and their filigree cast – iron bridges framing giant – size sculptures of gloomy dignitaries – eh?

So, where’s the sunshine, then, sunshine? Maybe it’s Jude Kelly’s background in Leeds, that coldbed of dark Satanic mills, but we are miles away from the heady warmth of Italy and the passion of the warm South - the true, the blushful Hippocrene and all that only gets a look-in here in the shape of Dulcamara’s cheap plonk potion. My heart sank when the curtain went up on those gunmetal – grey office backdrops, those monumental steps and those grey-clad office workers; groan, I thought, here we go – now all we need is a bunch of army – fatigues, and lo! they appeared, mincing like leftovers from that wonderful Monty Python sketch featuring the camp drill (Ooh, you are a naughty one!) So, hardly an original directorial concept here, but Kelly does understand how to make singing actors move and react with conviction, and given that those singers are amongst the best the house has to offer, this is a hugely rewarding and enjoyable evening.

The young lovers were taken by Rhys Meirion, who recently made a respectable stab at Alfredo in the house, and Alison Roddy, most recently seen here as a delectable Yum –Yum; both were making role debuts, and they were as credible a pair as could be imagined. Nemorino is a post – boy in a too-small jacket and hopeless hat, Adina a pert office flirt. Meirion’s ‘Quanto e bella’ was a little dry and nervous – sounding, but he recovered to give a performance of charm and mellifluousness; no point in bemoaning the fact that he’s not Pavarotti, since his singing as accurate and sensitive as one could expect – there isn’t an Italianate bone in his body, but who cares? He gave a more than creditable account of ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ and was convincing as the ‘potion’ began to have its effect.

Alison Roddy had been ill for the first night, so it was good to find her in such excellent voice on this occasion; she is ideal for the part in every way, since her singing is of bell-like clarity, she has a natural verbal inflection which suits this music admirably, and she is extremely pert and pretty. She sang her solo music sweetly and blended beautifully with Nemorino in ‘Esulti pur la Barbara……’ and with Dulcamara in ‘Io son ricco…’

Dulcamara was entrusted to Andrew Shore, for whose sonorous buffo-baritono such roles might have been written; he acted the part of a mirth-bringer with consummate ease, falling naturally into the concept of Dulcamara not as a charlatan but as a jovial provider of a little colour in the grey lives around him, and he sang his music with confidence and tonal beauty – ‘Udite, udite, o rustici’ was enunciated with real clarity. In fact, the overall standard of diction was excellent, maintaining the recent much-needed improvement.

Belcore and Giannetta were in the reliable if sometimes routine hands of Ashley Holland and Sally Harrison, and the chorus sang with tremendous gusto; the post – ‘wedding party’ scene where Giannetta tells her friends about Nemorino’s new-found riches was a particular delight, with the chorus members doing one of those ‘totally smashed’ routines in which they seem to specialize! Michael Lloyd directed an affectionate, sprightly account of the score, giving the singers plenty of room and providing all the necessary fizz in the ensembles.

Don’t expect great revelations – they don’t exist in this opera, anyway – but do expect singing of verve and commitment, and a production which may appear a little dated in concept but still fulfils the most vital requirements of setting the characters and actions against a credible and visually stimulating background.

 

Melanie Eskenazi

 


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