Elisir at Opera North

4 Mar

Opera North’s L’elisir d’amore has always been one their happier productions and the latest revival, which I caught on 3rd March at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle, proved fresh, alive and hugely enjoyable.

I’m fond of Elisir. It’s a beautifully human opera about character, with a gentle humour and real emotion which Donizetti charts wonderfully.  It’s a leisurely piece which gives the characters time to develop and this was what Daniel Slater’s excellent production caught.

He’s updated it. Adina owns a hotel, Nemorino is a waiter and there’s an assorted chorus of guest, police, a priest and a real doctor who is suitably upset by Dulcamara.  There are lots of nice, gentle jokes, plenty of colour and nothing to distract badly from the principal characters.  My only reservation comes with the fact that the curtain comes down to clear the stage in the middle of each act: it shouldn’t need to, particularly in Act II because there’s a nice momentum building up and this interrupts it.

Slater was back on hand to rehearse a bright young cast.  I loved the way he got the characters right: Belcore genuinely in love with Adina and she clearly regretting this from the beginning of Act II.  It’s neatly choreographed to just the right extent; Dulcamara has a a child assistant who manages to avoid entirely being irritating – easily the most successful assistant for him that I’ve seen in any production.  I don’t think you could ask for a more enjoyable production of it.

The cast is pretty good.  Jung Soo Yun struck me as someone to watch as Nemorino.  He has a lovely, Pavarotti-ish tenor which I thought he used with a lot of taste and confidence.  I’m not sure how he’d work in a larger theatre but this was intelligent, very beautiful singing and I thought he did Una furtiva lagrima really beautifully.

Gabriella Iştoc was a sympathetic Adina, intelligent and decent and you felt that this opera was a journey for her as much as for Nemorino.  Vocally, she was expressive, her voice is bright, clear and I thought that she did the series of duets with, again, good taste and understanding.

Duncan Rock is always watchable and his Belcore, a bit less exaggerated than usual gave you the sense, as I’ve suggested of someone who really cares for Adina.  He sang with a good sense of the style even though I suspect he’s more comfortable in Mozart and Britten.

Richard Burkhardt has a light-ish voice for Dulcamara, but he puts across the notes and the words really well and he’s a super actor.  His comic timing and range of expressions was perfect for the role.  Like all of them, it’s less exaggerated than usual and that’s no bad thing.  I loved his drinking the “elixir” himself before trying to get Adina in their Act II duet.

Fflur Wyn made a really attractive, positive Gianetta, singing really well – very strong casting here.  Chorus was in good form and seemed to be enjoying itself.  Tobias Ringhorn conducted and kept the piece moving.  I’ve heard more idiomatic Donizetti conducting in my time and smoother orchestral playing, but it did the job perfectly well.

It was sung in Italian which, I felt, was a shame.  While the Italian obviously fits the music, you lose the direct communication with the audience.  It was nice to hear Jung Soo Yun and Gabriela Iştoc but there are surely other English singers out there? The surtitles, I suppose, did the job.

A good, happy evening that kept me smiling and enjoying this gorgeous, funny, rather touching opera.

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