Simon Phillips‘ Aussie-fied adaptation of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore has finally made its way out West to His Majesty’s Theatre with WA Opera. It’s a bright, cheerful affair that had audiences laughing at the Ocker surtitles, the corrugated-tin sight gags, and the naughty antics of the cast. It’s a treat for all the senses, not least of all the ears, with some beautiful sounds from both the stage and the orchestra pit, filled by WASO under the baton of Stuart Stratford.
Upon first sight of the set and costumes, if you thought you’d found yourself at a production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, I don’t think anyone could blame you. Even the admittedly silly libretto of Elixir shares a few commonalities with the musical: the rural setting, the snake-oil peddler, the two young lovers that just don’t know they’re in love yet. But of course if you used some of the slang seen in Elixir’s surtitles, “bonza,” “drongo,” or “corker” for example, you’d have Oklahomans scratching their heads even more than they normally would at the opera. No, we’re definitely in that great sunburnt country of Australia.
Set in a hilly, corrugated iron landscape of orange, yellow and blue, the cartoonish design by Michael Scott-Mitchell is a play on perspective, with props that “grow” as they approach from the rear of the stage. The first time the gag is used, a cavalry approaches, then a motor car, and finally, in a coup of cuteness, Nemorino’s trusty corrugated pet dog. The costumes designed by Gabriela Tylesova blend in seamlessly with the landscape, painted with impressionistic brush-strokes. Lighting by Nick Schlieper is bright and summery.
Elixir is musically bright and summery as well, though perhaps its best known aria is “Una furtiva lagrima” (A furtive tear) which is all melancholy pining. Here, Aldo Di Toro sings this much-loved and oft-performed solo with such tender sadness and expression that he elicits a “Bravo!” from somewhere in the first few rows at the end of his song. He’s a sweet and gentle Nemorino, and though he isn’t the sharpest tool in the shearing shed, he’s devoted and knows how to keep his mitts off a lady.
Not so for the other two men who populate this little love story: Belcore (Jose Carbo) can’t keep his hands from wandering, even in front of the townsfolk, and Dr. Dulcamara (Marco Nistico) insists on pantomiming sexual acts behind Adina’s back and fixing his gaze squarely on her breasts. I suppose this is all in good fun, but I can’t help feeling Phillips has pushed the joke a little too far at points. Rachelle Durkin as Adina is ever graceful under the circumstances and sings like an angel even while her male companions behave so badly.
Jose Carbo, despite his character’s rude behaviour, is excellently pompous and even charming in that Mr. Not-Nice-Guy way, while Marco Nistico and his silent gum-chewing henchman Brodie Masini are suitably shifty. Rachelle Durkin is exceedingly masterful of her domain, a confident, present lead performer and top-notch vocal gymnast with a playful spirit. She and Di Toro are an unconventional but nevertheless lovely pairing, their chemistry most palpable in a scene where she sings sweetly into his ear and he practically melts into a puddle. The moment and the emotion look incredibly real, and I don’t see how they couldn’t be.
West Australian audiences will love this production because it’s recognisable, and its lighthearted themes are a welcome, happy refuge from these unsteady times.
The Elixir of Love plays at His Majesty’s Theatre at 7.30PM on 14, 16, 19, 21, 23 JULY. For more information and tickets, visit the WAO website here.