Donizetti, The Elixir of Love, English National Opera
Saturday 13 February 2010
You may wonder what the most archetypally homespun of Italian operas is doing in Kansas? But then again what sense does Italy make when they don't speak our lingo?
This is opera in English, remember, and as the good Dr. Jonathan Miller will remind us making sense of the unlikely is the name of the operatic game and finding a good fit for comedy sometimes involves a bit of travelling. So here we are in Kansas where the skies are high and the scrubland flat and where just about the only place to refuel on grub and gas is Adina's Diner.
She, you'll recall, is the feisty hard-to-get heroine of Donizetti's folksy tale and as the curtain rises on Isabella Bywater's deliciously cinemascopic 1950s set the music may not be quite what you'd expect to be hearing but when the likes of Dean (Martin, that is) could equate moons and pizza pies and still have us believing "That's Amore" then it's pretty much open season on suspending disbelief. What really counts is that The Elixir of Love is charming and funny - and Miller's self-evident affection for the territory and the period (I know, he's been there before) ensures that it is.
Much of the credit for that should go to Kelley Rourke's crackingly witty translation. For sure, it takes as many liberties as it fires off rhyming couplets but it does so with irresistible silliness. "You reek of halitosis/ Then take a couple of doses", recommends the not-so-good Dr. Dulcamara at such speed as precludes anyone challenging the outrageous claims he makes for his fraudulent lotions and potions. That number pointedly doesn't have surtitles but who needs them when you've got Andrew Shore. Arriving by Cadillac in shades and a sharp suit, it's as if Nicely-Nicely Johnson is taking a break from organising crap games in New York City. Shore's star turn includes a, let's just say, ripely characterised duet with Sarah Tynan's vocally and physically pert Adina which Frank Loesser wouldn't have disowned.
There are, of course, the lovely Miller details: Nemorino (the personable and vocally engaging John Tessier) turning momentarily into a bass-baritone when swigging the Elixir; the perpetual queue for the outside loo; and a really telling moment between Adina and Nemorino to set up his hit number "A Furtive Tear" which for once doesn't feel like it's in the wrong place.
There are some balance problems between pit and stage: Pablo Heras-Casado's enthusiasm beefs up the orchestra way too much for this house. But even if they don't sing "Luck Be A Lady", that's what we're all thinking.
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