The Elixir of Love

Gaetano Donizetti, text by Felice Romani, based on Le Philtre by Eugène Scribe
Welsh National Opera
Bristol Hippodrome

Production photo

Elixir is right. The most frequently performed of Donzetti's works in the composer's lifetime is as effervescent and intoxicating as a glass of champagne with one sparkling aria following another like so many bubbles.

It is also given a cracking staging by the WNO in a revival of Opera North's 2003 production which transports the action to what looks like the south of Italy circa the 1950s or 60s judging from the costumes - a number of women sport headscarves and Ray Bans à la Jackie Kennedy - and the Vespas.

Robert Hopkins' set, in which all the action takes place, is a delight. A sleek café front gives on to a square with tables and chairs, the sea-front; palm trees and blue sky beyond. Even before things gets under way you feel lifted.

There is a real zest to the production with a lovely attention to detail. One notes, for example, the lovers sat in the square who repeatedly interrupt their canoodling to repair elsewhere. There is also a deftly comic scene when the women of the village, much the worse for wear after their previous night's carousing, attempt to freshen their make-up and catch the eye of Nemorino the nouveaux riche, though it says more about Britain than it does about Italy.

The opera charts the story of Nemorino - here employed as a waiter - and his unrequited love for the capricious Adina. As the action gets underway Captain Belcore arrives and immediately begins to flirt with Adina. Talk turns to marriage but hope arrives in the form of Doctor Dulcamara, a quack, who dramatically descends in a balloon in search of sales for his cure-all remedy.

Dulcamara agrees to sell Nemorino a love-potion, in reality a bottle of wine, but begins to believe his own hype after women begin to throw themselves at his client, though this is because, unbeknownst to Nemorino, word has got out about the death of his guardian and his subsequent inheritance of a fortune.

The singing is knock-out, not least from Robin Tritschler as Nemorino standing in for the indisposed Wynne Evans. His tenor voice stole the show for me, notably with his aria, Una Furtive Lagrima. Camilla Roberts as Adina tackled her role with real swagger while Neal Roberts relishes his role as the weasly Dulcamara with the "orotund garrulity" it affords. Also swaggering to great effect, musically as well as dramatically, is Simon Thorpe as Belcore.

The female chorus of the WNO add hugely to the fun and proceedings move nimbly along under the baton of conductor Rory Macdonald.

Oscar Wilde rated a cigarette, "The perfect type of a perfect pleasure; it is exquisite and leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one ask?" Just so.

Reviewer: Pete Wood