Donizetti L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera House

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The Independent Culture

Laurent Pelly’s incurably cute 2006 staging of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore adds a whole new dimension to that well-worn phrase “make hay while the sun shines”.

A veritable mountain of the stuff greets us as the curtain rises and the sun pretty much shines throughout – until the stars come out to smile on Adina and Nemorino’s hard-won romance.

Smiles rather than guffaws are the order of the day for this engaging if slight entertainment and some of those occur between scenes when we can scan a front cloth advertising the entire range of Doctor Dulcamara’s lotions and potions. Cures for “Constipazione” and “Impotenze” (who needs Viagra?) but not yet, of course, the biggest money-spinner of them all…

Mind you, it’s clearly going to take more than a cheap Bordeaux to get the better of headstrong Adina, as portrayed here by the feisty Diana Damrau. She is the principal reason for catching this timely revival (even Doctor Dulcamara’s prices are coming down). Damrau is a natural, a big personality on stage, firing up her vocals to great purpose, scolding, flirting, coaxing and cajoling for all she’s worth. It’s a lovely sound she makes but it’s the personality behind that sound, the uninhibited way she uses the coloratura that proves so winning. You have no fears that every pyrotechnic will land and every top note will be nailed and in her outrage that Nemorino is suddenly garnering the attention of all the other girls she affects an octave-plus plunge from way above the stave to a vindictive chest note that quite takes the breath away. Boy, does she mean business. Her declaration of love, when it finally comes, is well worth the wait. She almost persuades me that she’s Italian.

With Giuseppe Filianoti, charm is his saving grace. He plays Nemorino as a hyperactive puppy using his words boldly to deflect attention away from the singing. It’s not a very ingratiating sound and the celebrated aria (“Una furtiva lagrima”), big-hearted but inelegant, lacked those covered half-shades that hint at the profoundly romantic in the much-ridiculed farm hand.

Speaking of ridicule and notwithstanding one or two bottom notes slightly out of his comfort zone, Anthony Michaels-Moore had fun with the absurd Sergeant Belcore (and his two-man platoon: Little and Large) and Simone Alaimo’s Dulcamara, spurred on by Bruno Campanella’s spry conducting, huffed and puffed his way through the patter, doing pretty much what it said on all of his tins.