Left - Andrew Collis. Cover - Natalie Jones and Andrew Collis. Photos - Rob Maccoll
It has certainly been said of opera that it is not heavily attended by the under 30’s set. Even with QPAC’s introduction of a bargain ticket scheme for said Gen Y-ers, this young reviewer found herself again standing out in A Reserve between the blue rinses. I love opera, broadly speaking, since being a long-term student of Italian I have regularly attended ‘study outings’ to most productions that come through Brisbane, and have thus garnered somewhat of an appreciation.
The Elixir of Love, I can confidently say, was the most enjoyable to date. I haven’t had this much fun at the opera since Jon English swashbuckled across the stage, and that was a while back now. An engrossing story teamed with terrific lead performances and a hilarious Australiana twist, had me won from the first note.
Donizetti’s opera debuted 178 years ago in Milan, with a libretto by Felice Romani, and though neither the score nor songs have changed, safe to say Opera Queensland’s production is a far cry from the original. First staged in Victoria in 2001, what sets this production apart is the Australian theming. We find ourselves in the far outback, at the brink of WWI; the traditional role of the shepherd is now a shearer and the set is a rich rural landscape, complete with pink galahs, chooks and a loyal blue heeler.
Set designer Michael Scott-Mitchell has assembled a vibrant and almost kitsch countryside backdrop: the sunburnt hills, a windmill, a flock of sheep on wheels, all of which is constructed in a corrugated iron-esque material. He received a Green Room Award for this design and it is a real visual feast, adding a great measure of colour and playfulness to the stage.
It doesn’t take long to notice that something is afoot with the surtitles of this production. Instead of a straight English translation, the lyrics have been interpreted into Aussie slang, hearing the majestic sopranos calling each other names like bloke, sheila, and drongo is hilarious. Opera Australia’s Brian FitzGerald prepared these surtitles, hence bringing a unique element of accessibility to the show, and serving to personalise the experience for every Aussie speaker in the audience.
Stand-out performances of the evening were Andrew Collis as the travelling snake-oil merchant, Doctor Dulcamara (surprisingly in his role debut) and Natalie Jones starring as Adina, the wealthy feminist with more pride than she can handle. The Symphony Orchestra was as marvellous as you’d expect and the voices of the performers amazed me as the they never cease to do. One of the beauties of the opera is that it’s retained its original form from the days before the amp and 10 foot speakers. This is vocal power in its god given form, and guess what kids, no microphones!
There is an interesting corporate tie-in at the very end, which I won’t spoil for you, but even though it has suitable historic connotations, I would have been happy to go without what insinuated a rather garish moment of product placement. Aside from that, Opera Queensland’s The Elixir of Love is, as director Simon Phillips suggests, a genuine “…barrel of laughs.” There are few great comedic operas (that is without suicide, murder, or horrific tragedy) and this one is pretty much the great Italian rom-com meets Dorothea MacKellar. If you are considering seeing it, go, and if you are twenty something and think that opera is just fat women in wigs, then this is a great place to start your foray into the highest of arts.
Opera Queensland presents
The Elixir of Love
by Gaetano Donizetti
Original Director Simon Phillips
Revival Director Christopher Dawes
With the Opera Queensland Chorus and The Queensland Orchestra
Sung in Italian with projected English translations
Venue: Lyric Theatre, QPAC
Dates: 15, 20, 22, 25, 27 and 29 (matinee) May, 2010
Tickets: $47.25 - $153.25
Bookings: qtix 136 246 | www.qtix.com.au