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L’Elisir d’Amore

by on 23 September 2018

Something for the Weekend, Sir?

L’Elisir d’Amore

by Gaetano Donizetti, libretto Felice Romani

Villa InCanto at Normansfield Theatre until 22nd September, then on tour until 12th November

Review by Ian Nethersell

Sometimes when you strip away everything you are left with nothing, but sometimes you find more. The latter definitely being the case for me at this fully staged presentation of Donizetti’s comic opera in the wonderfully atmospheric, if not a little chilly, Normansfield Theatre, set up by the pioneering Dr John Langdon Down in 1879, some 47 years after Donizetti penned L’Elisir d’Amore.

Just as Dr Langdon Down was pioneering in identifying Down’s Syndrome and working with sufferers believing inclusion and artistic presentation were key, so too are Villa Incanto in the belief of bringing opera off the stage and amongst the people and the almost unique way in which they present it.

The space had been set up with seating creating a thrust space at floor level with access to the stage by the original ornate Victorian steps, with a grand piano and simple tableau with hats, flowers and various other prop pieces for use during the evening at floor level below the stage. It was into this space Maestro Riccardo Serenelli entered to welcome the audience and give a brief synopsis of Act One, which was useful as I do not speak Italian and this is the language in which it was sung. His passion, enjoyment and excitement for this genre was clear and as he sat at the piano the lights went down on the floor space and Nemorino, a poor peasant (Renato Cordeiro) enters and sings his first aria, beautifully delivered and showing all the emotion of his love and desire for Adina, a wealthy land owner (Maria Casado Mas) as she toys with him, but also shows a genuine fondness for Nemorino.

Belcore, an army sergeant (Jorge Tello Rodriguez) enters with the confidence of a man used to having orders obeyed and managed to bring great comedy to the piece from the outset, inviting an audience member to don his hat and join the marching. This was an interesting device to represent a larger company of soldiers whilst only having four performers to deliver the whole of this opera. Adina’s playfulness comes out as she interacts and sings with Belcore and when he declares he is smitten, she takes the opportunity to play once more with Nemorino, which elevates his level of insecurity. Belcore’s feelings for Adina however seem superficial, not in a malicious way but more like that of a bee which flits from one flower to the next to collect nectar. With a perfect comedy flourish he raises his hand to his head to flick his beautiful locks, but of course he is bald. Belcore’s interest in Adina concerns Nemorino whose anger at this development is not only directed at Belcore and Adina, but towards himself. He resolves to do something about it, but what?

Elisir 992 Renato Cordeiro
Scene Two opens with a touching and heartfelt interaction between Nemorino and Adina, both telling each other how they feel about each other, but something in Adina’s character draws her to flirt with others in the village (the audience). In her defensive way of displaying her true emotions she presents Nemorino with a bouquet of flowers, which as this is a comedy, of course was broccoli. She exits and Nemorino observes Dr Dulcamara, a travelling pedlar-charlatan-conman, (Derek S Henderson) presenting his wares to the audience. Nemorino is keen to buy the ‘Elixir’ (just wine) which will make Adina fall in love with him. It is explained that the ‘Elixir’ will not take effect until the next day, and with his last Lira Nemorino invests in the small bottle as Dr Dulcamara exits to make his escape before the con is discovered. Nemorino drinks it, and with another comedy moment, sings with an undertone of hiccups.

Elisir 250 Jorge Rodriguez

Adina enters and with a new-found security and confidence, Nemorino rebuffs her, playing her at her own game. Adina, unphased but hurt, decides to accept Sergeant Belcore’s offer of marriage and exits with him leaving Nemorino to run off calling after Dr Dulcamara to help him.

Act Two opens with the wedding-engagement party and the audience are once again invited to break through the fourth wall and dance with the performers to become guests at the party.

Dr Dulcamara has refused Nemorino more Elixir as he has no money, but Sergeant Belcore has a plan to get rid of any competition. He tells Nemorino that if he signs up to the army he will get his first payment in cash and immediately. Nemorino agrees without comprehending the full repercussions of placing his ‘X’ on the contract. He does so and the purse is handed over. They both sing of their happiness as there are now no barriers to their desires. Belcore leaves and Nemorino sing the most famous aria from the piece, Una Furtiva Lagrima, ‘A Furtive Tear’ (the only aria in the piece I already knew). This tells of a tear observed in Adina’s eye, the first glimpse of her true emotions by Nemorino who goes off to find Dulcamara.

Elisir 046 Maria Casado Mas

At the wedding Nemorino arrives under the influence of the ‘Elixir’ but feels he is too late. Adina has bought Nemorino’s contract to get him out of the army but he tells her that if he can’t have her love he might as well go and die in a battle. Adina realises Nemorino’s true and authentic feelings. She declares her true love and ends the marriage contract with Belcore, who gets over it pretty quickly before flitting off to find some more nectar. Dulcamara is allowed to leave the village with all believing the ‘Elixir’ works, which in some way it has because Nemorino and Adina sing of their love for each other and all ends happily.

Ultimately this was my first encounter with this piece and with this company and I must say that I was very taken by the whole experience.

Maestro Serenelli kept the music bright and directed stellar performances from all the cast.

Renato Cordeiro’s Nemorino kept a childlike innocence throughout but drew out and presented truthful emotions in his delivery, acting and his smooth, unforced voice which was a joy to hear.

Maria Casado Mas presented a strong but playful Adina, never out of control but not controlling. Her full bodied voice was full and not jarring as she hit the top notes.

Jorge Tello Rodriguez brought more comedy to the role of Sergeant Belcore than I have seen before in any comic opera. His enjoyment in the playing was infectious and his powerful voice was never uncontrolled.

Derek S Henderson’s voice is a deep rich bass-baritone and his portrayal of a slightly inept conman, who can’t believe he got away with it, was fully rounded.

Paring the piece down and bringing it in to a parlour setting (almost in ‘the round’) allowed me to interact with the piece more fully than I have before and I also found myself laughing during a ’comic opera’, a first for me. The fully drawn characterisations without caricature, immaculate singing and acting would not be out of place on any dramatic stage.

Less is not always more but in this case it most definitely was; the paring down, without compromise to quality and congruence drew me into the piece and I left feeling as though I had been part of it, experienced it, not just watched it. The final flourish to this inclusive experience were the performers and Maestro lining up at the exit to say goodbye and thank you.

Did my lack of understanding of Italian ruin the evening for me? No, such was the quality of performances and presentation.

If you get the opportunity to see this company in action I would recommend you take it

Ian Nethersell
September 2018

Photography courtesy of Villa InCanto

From → Opera, Reviews

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