Opera + Classical Music Reviews

L’elisir d’amore @ Royal Opera, London

13, 17, 19, 22, 24, 26, 29 November 2007

Ludovic Tézier

L’elisir d’amore: Ludovic Tézier

L’elisir d’amore, Donizetti’s story of a simple bumpkin’s love for a capricious and flirtatious country girl, is delicately balanced between humour and pathos. Laurent Pelly’s Paris production of the opera has now arrived in London and a thoroughly enjoyable romp it is. Aleksandra Kurzak is little short of sensational as Adina, in a strong cast that barely notices the absence of indisposed star tenor Rolando Villazón.

Pelly and set designer Chantal Thomas had a huge hit here earlier in the year with another of Donizetti’s lighter works, La fille du régiment. I was one of a small minority who found the comedy in that production too broad, imposed on the story and frankly not funny. L’elisir d’amore is an altogether more substantial work, with better music and a deft comedy structure that verges on the ingenious. Pelly seems to trust this and the comedy this time creeps up on us much more subtly and truthfully.

Following the shock withdrawal of Villazon, Stefano Secco shares the run with Dmitry Korchak. He gives a touching performance as Nemorino, although on the first night he took a while to warm up, unfortunate as one of his big numbers (“Quanto bella”) comes right at the beginning, Once he’d got going, though, he brought youthfulness, animation and plenty of sympathy to the role. His “Una furtiva lagrima” isn’t the biggest or most beautiful you’ll ever hear but it is moving in its simplicity and heartfelt sincerity.

As the object of his yearning, Kurzak twinkles and shines without resorting to the tricks that some sopranos use to try and persuade us they’re young and vivacious. She’s the real thing with a stunning voice, especially in the higher register, and tremendous acting ability, which Pelly draws upon to maximum effect.

Ludovic Tézier is an arrogant black-uniformed Belcore while Paolo Gavanelli, as the vagabond Dulcamara, shows a mean comic ability, with an imposing dark voice. A neat visual touch is a frontcloth covered in newspaper ads claiming Dulcamara’s elixir as the remedy to any ailment. This quack doesn’t need marketing anywhere near as sophisticated, as he trades his dodgy wares from the back of a lorry, making a quick buck before moving swiftly on.

Kishani Jayasinghe, a Jette Parker Young Artist, completes the line-up of principals as a very attractive farmgirl Gianetta. The crowd scenes are beautifully choreographed and the chorus sing sensitively and with great focus under Renato Balsadonna‘s direction. Mikko Frank conducts the Royal Opera orchestra with bags of attack.

Thomas’ sets, evoking post-war Italian cinema, are highly effective. At curtain up, the mountain of hay bales tells us immediately that we’re in rural territory and the second scene landscape, with cornfield disappearing into an evocative skyline provides a handsome backdrop to the bustle of village life. Bikes, both motorised and manual, buzz around and a scampering little dog adds the “aah” factor without being twee.

The comedy may not be broad enough for some tastes, and it’s possible the focused performances won’t travel to the highest parts of the theatre, but I found the approach just right for an opera that can become tiresomely jaunty. It gets a fine balance between the comic elements and the pathos of these simple characters. The elixir of love is neither a drink nor money but love itself put it out there and you’ll get it back it seems to be saying.

If you were thinking, with the star tenor missing, of staying away, I’d urge you to think again. This is an evening that more than survives and is well worth a visit.

To read our interview with baritone Ludovic Tézier, click here

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L’elisir d’amore @ Royal Opera, London
Interview: Ludovic Tézier