Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love is one of the great operas of the bel canto repertoire with its shimmeringly beautiful melodies and orchestrations. A not so simple love story of a peasant farm-hand, Nemorino, who is in love with Adina, the alluring padrona – the opera follows Nemorino’s pursuit of Adina, which can be achieved, he thinks, only with the help of an elixir. Adina is seemingly disinterested in the shy and timid Nemorino, instead being lured by the charms of the conceited Sergeant Belcore. Adina reads the story of Tristan and Isolde to the workers, as she finds the idea of a woman falling in love with the help of a potion delightfully amusing. Nemorino isn’t so amused and buys an elixir (two bottles, in fact!) from the suitably dodgy Dr Dulcamara. A series of events leads to Adina admitting her love for Nemorino – was it the elixir? Dr Dulcamara will vouch for that!
The soloists (Friday August 15 cast – David Hobson, Antoinette Halloran, Christopher Tonkin, Roger Lemke, and Danielle Calder) along with the skilled ensemble brought the music of Donizetti to life with highly polished performances. Hobson as Nemorino, created a lovely character both shy and outgoing, despite at times seeming a little disconnected from the performance itself. A highlight was Hobson’s hilarious characterisation of Nemorino after he has drunk the ‘magical’ elixir – a glimpse of Hobson’s thrilling fearlessness and control was revealed as he danced drunkenly around the stage as he sang, ending with a stunning pianissimo high note. Halloran as Adina complemented Hobson’s Nemorino beautifully with her vain, but caring Adina, with a wonderfully lyrical and agile vocal performance. Tonkin, however, as Sergeant Belcore was the stand-out performer, portraying his character’s charismatic, gum-chewing arrogance vividly, reflected equally in his brilliant bass voice.
Set designer Isabella Bywater’s prominent wood panelled set design perfectly captured the atmosphere of a farm station in mid-west America, and was very effective despite clunky minor set changes. Dr Dulcamara’s arrival, heralded by a toy bus juddering up the wood planked mountain was particularly enjoyed by the audience. The costume design complemented this atmosphere, in particular, Hobson in a big blue pair of overalls with a copy of Tristan and Isolde peeking out of his top front pocket, made me feel sympathy for the awkward sweetness of the dorky Nemorino.
A small chamber ensemble, conducted by Warwick Stengårds, and made up of Orchestra Victoria musicians under the direction of deputy concertmaster, Roger Jonsson, produced an exquisite interpretation of Donizetti’s score. The forte piano, in particular, evoked the essence of the early-nineteenth century with the lovely lightness of the timbre reflecting the lyricism of the vocal lines.
The Victorian Opera Company seems to have stolen Dr Dulcamara's recipe – and found the elixir that hits the spot with opera lovers!
Victorian Opera presents
The Elixir of Love
Venue: Merlyn Theatre, CUB Malthouse
Dates: 11-21 August
Bookings: Ticketmaster or call 1300 723 038