The Elixir of Love, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, September 2011Posted on 16 September 2011
A revival of Jonathan Miller’s production of Elixir, set in a diner in small town America, is an excellent way to start the new season.
Miller’s production first appeared in early 2010, and the two stars of those performances returned to give us their best: Sarah Tynan as the saucy, sassy Adina, and Andrew Shore as the charlatan Dr. Dulcamara. They were very well supported on this occasion by Ben Johnson as little Mr. Nobody, Nemorino, and after his singing of Una furtiva lagrima, (or ‘I saw a tear fall silently’ in Kelley Rourke’s updating to the vernacular of 1950s America), the audience burst into sustained applause. They were joined by Rory Macdonald in the orchestra pit, who did a fine job with Donizetti’s score, and vocally and orchestrally this all worked very well.
I liked Ms Rourke’s translation — a bit of poetic license doesn’t come amiss, and in Dulcamara’s final aria where he continues to extol the wonders of his bogus medicine she has him singing, ‘And did I forget to mention/ it reduces hypertension’. Of course she had excellent material to work with because Felice Romani’s libretto is very clever. He was a master of the art of libretto writing and there’s a story that he and Donizetti created this opera in two weeks. Certainly the whole thing hangs together beautifully, and sustains adaptations.
Those of us brought up on Wagner may find Romani’s initial cavatina for Adina a bit surprising when she mentions Tristan and Isolde, but this was 1832, before Wagner had completed his first opera (Die Feen in 1833), and it was just one of those ancient tales of true love, inspired in this case by a love potion. It beautifully sets the stage for the credulous Nemorino to buy a bottle of Dulcamara’s patent medicine later in Act I.
In Act II the scene between Nemorino and Sergeant Belcore was very effective. The two young men, Ben Johnson and Benedict Nelson interacted superbly together, and Belcore’s gripping handshake on the deal for Nemorino to join the army was wittily done. With Ella Kirkpatrick singing Giannetta, the whole cast worked superbly as a team, and Jonathan Miller has done a great job of staging this again. Isabella Bywater’s designs let the chorus ladies look their best in those 1950s dresses, and though the setting is just a diner, that little bit of style is just the ticket.
Performances continue until October 8 — for details click here.