L’elisir d’amore is a bel canto comic opera in two acts by Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti with libretto by Felice Romani. Written in 1832, today it is one of the most frequently performed of all Donizetti’s operas.
Naïve country boy Nemorino (Liparit Avetisyan) is determined to win the heart of the coquettish Adina (Nadine Sierra) but this assured young woman doesn’t even bother to give him the time of day. When the parochial life of the village is thrown into disarray by the arrival of the dashing Sergeant Belcore (Boris Pinkhasovich) at the head of his troops, the lovesick peasant boy is forced to turn to other means in his Tristan-like pursuit of his Isolde, and the arrival of wheeler-dealer Doctor Dulcamara (Ambrogio Maestri) promises much with his so-called ‘elixir of love’. As the increasingly half-cut Nemorino’s charms begin to take effect on the local women, led by Giannetta (Sarah Dufresne), the only question is whether it can work its magic on his true love.
This production by Laurent Pelly was first performed at Covent Garden in 2007, but this revival by director Paul Higgins has added layers to the original with some delightful touches, none more so than allowing the cast to fully own their characterisation complete with idiosyncratic expressions and gestures that add to the fun of Chantal Thomas’ 1950s set replete with scooters and bikes crisscrossing the village – as well as a speeding dog – which itself augments the piece’s natural feelgood factor and Italian charm.
This is an opera as much about the balance between the words and the music, the comedy and the emotion, as it is a love story balancing the heart and soul and which feels very much like falling in love for the first time. Conductor Sesto Quatrini, making his house debut, draws out the right music from the orchestra to accompany the right words on stage, with the simplest of orchestration acting as a magic carpet for the singers to fly.
Avetisyan delivers boyish charm and comic timing reminiscent of John Belushi that has you rooting for him from the outset, yet there is real depth to his performance, none more so than in his heartfelt lament ‘Una furtiva lagrima’, which, amid an array of stars from lighting designer Joel Adam, brought the house down.
Maestri was a late replacement for Bryn Terfel, who was sadly unable to perform tonight, but you wouldn’t have known it as he eased himself in with his ramshackle van before taking full command in the second half in an accomplished performance that was deservedly applauded.
Pinkhasovich is hugely entertaining and effectively likeable even if we don’t want him to get the girl. There is a large ensemble who provide sterling support throughout, and I particularly enjoyed the female ensemble, led by Dufresne, in the second half who adopt a very different attitude to our ‘hero’ when the worst kept secret comes out.
As much as everyone shone brightly, there was one that stood out that little bit more: this was Sierra’s house debut, one much delayed by the pandemic, but it was well worth waiting for. Having seen her perform with some considerable success at the Met, tonight’s performance reinforced that her star is well and truly on the rise. As delightful as Donizetti is, he is notoriously difficult to sing as he spreads emotion across the whole register, but Sierra’s soprano took it in her stride, delivering an effortlessly thrilling ride up and down her range. Her acting prowess showed great comic skill and timing as well as drawing out the true emotion and heart from the bold and confident woman we first meet: bravo!
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 5th October 2023
North West End UK Rating: