The Elixir of Love

Lyric Theatre (Opera Queensland)


You’ve heard of date movies this is a good “date opera”. It’s a frothy, entertaining piece about love unrequited but of course eventually requited, with lots of laughs on top of great musical performance. A work never staged before in Brisbane, this is a real charmer and a great start to Opera Queensland’s 2010 season.

Director Simon Phillips’ original production for Opera Australia (rehearsed for OQ by Christopher Dawes) is set on a pre-World War I outback farm, with lots of bucolic references and C.J. Denis-era Australianisms. The rural idyll is interrupted by the arrival of the cavalry, in the shape of the Australian Light Horse.

Elixir of Love tells of love-sick farm labourer Nemorino’s desperate attempt to win the affections of the lovely Adina against the rivalry of cavalry officer Belcore. Nemorino invests a fortune in a love potion peddled to him by the conniving Dr Dulcamara and surprisingly, it seems to do the trick.

Michael Scott-Mitchell’s comic sets evoke an Aussie bush landscape, themed to an apparent outback fascination with corrugated iron the hills, the sky, and even the horses and sheep appear to be constructed of this essential material. Galahs populate the telegraph wires, ducks are on the wing, a windmill sits on the hill, while sheep baa and cows moo from the sidelines.

Gabriela Tylesova’s costume design gives us check-shirted farm labourers and beautifully-garbed straw-hatted and plaited maidens who might have stepped off the set of Oklahoma, together with the bold cavaliers in full rig complete with emu plumes. Nick Schlieper’s lighting creates evocative moods for the shifts from sunny outdoors to twilight and shearing shed wedding scenes.

Natalie Jones, a comely Adina, sings with great sweetness and charm, while as Nemorino, Virgilio Marino’s lovely light tenor voice is perfect in intonation, although outgunned by the two baritone voices. He does a lovely job with the show’s big hit, “Una furtiva lagrima”, an aria which Donizetti no doubt never imagined being sung from inside a chook house!

Jose Carbo sings and acts with military precision and strength as Belcore, while Andrew Collis is at his resonant and comic best as Dr Dulcamara. As village girl Giannetta, Emily Burke also sings and performs well, together with the large and lusty chorus, ably prepared by Narelle French.

The orchestra under Graham Abbott’s direction gives an assured and full-bodied sound, if sometimes struggling to dampen their enthusiasm beneath some soloists.

There are some great ensemble performances, with my favourite duet that between Collis and Jones towards the end of the second act superbly acted and sung by both, with lots of tricky embellishments.

The whole opera is rich in comic moments, such as the arrival from the distance of the cavalry and of the quack doctor’s old van, each appearing to loom larger as they come up and down the background hills. And there’s Virgilio Marino’s demonstration of sheep shearing and while he’s no Jackie Howe, it is certain that Jackie never had to shear corrugated iron sheep! And there’s Natalie Jones arduously wire brushing her metallic horse.

In another hilariously original touch, Marino’s character dashes downstage to lean up and read the production’s surtitles so that he can make out what Andrew Collis is actually singing about with Collis making incomprehensible (but still very musical) noises while greedily and perhaps even dangerously devouring a banana.

In addition, actors Paul Geoghegan as the driver and Jim Coady as the notary give wonderfully quirky character performances.

Brian FitzGerald’s surtitles provoke many a chuckle “she’s a real corker!” is Nemorino’s first impression of the lovely “sheila” Adina and indeed it would have been nice to have heard the piece sung in Aussie English rather than the original Italian.

— John Henningham
(Performance seen: Fri 14th May 2010)