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Vittorio Grigolo as Nemorino and Lucy Crowe as Adina [Photo by Mark Douet © ROH]
21 Nov 2014

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Vittorio Grigolo as Nemorino and Lucy Crowe as Adina [Photo by Mark Douet © ROH]


Pelly’s production has much to commend it: capriciousness, irony, tenderness and realism. On this occasion, it was the appearance of Bryn Terfel in his first essay at the role of the fraudulent doctor, Dulcamara, that accounted for the heightened air of expectancy; an anticipation that was further whipped up by the placard-strewn front-drop advertising Dulcamara’s fabled elixirs: ‘Costipazione’, ‘Impotenza’, ‘smettere di fumare’ — you name it, Dulcamara’s tonics truly offer a universal cure.

Terfel’s Dulcamara was less sleazy smooth-operator and more grimy grease-ball. He certainly didn’t intend to waste any time flattering and charming the yokels, and there was no attempt to feign affability or hide his deception, from the villagers or us. So what if the publicity posters on the van are peeling and the fireworks fizzle out? Aided by a couple of brutes, who drive the tatty truck and pick the peasants’ pocket, this Dulcamara is a brisk operator. In ‘Udite, udite, o rustici’ Terfel seemed almost impatient to swindle the peasants, grab the money and make a swift getaway; no matter if Nemorino, desperate for a second dose of the magic draught, was hazardously hanging on to the bull bars.

In Act 1 Terfel’s delivery was precise and vocally powerfully — adding to the quack’s aggressive gruffness — but somewhat, and surprisingly, dramatically low-key. And, despite having swapped his grubby lab-overalls for soiled red velvet, in honour of the pre-nuptial celebrations, ‘Io son ricco e tu sei bella’ was similarly under-played, with none of the hamminess that we might have expected from Terfel. The ‘wandering hands’, however, that drew an irritated ‘Silenzio!’ from groom-to-be Belcore, were a hint of the mischief to come. For in his Act 2 duet with Adina, ‘Quanto amore ed io spietata’, seemingly astonished by the miraculous transformation of Nemorino’s fortunes in love and luck which his elixir has effected, Dulcamara determined to down a large swig himself. The result was a delightfully light-footed leap, a twang of the braces, a wiggle of the bum and a wicked twinkle in the eye; beckoned off-stage by a teasing Adina, Dulcamara at last showed his charisma and appeal. Returning for the final chorus laden with crates of ‘curative’ Bordeaux, Dulcamara was full of boasts that he could boost not just the villagers’ amorous fortunes but their purses too: they had but to swallow his syrup and romance and riches were theirs! Clutching the cash, Terfel was the epitome of charming chicanery, not quite able to believe his own luck or his ‘powers’!

But, despite his winning appeal this Dulcamara was not the ‘star’ of the show; those honours went to tenor Vittorio Grigolo whose Nemorino wore his warm heart on his stripy sleeve and sang with an ardency and allure that ultimately even Adina could not resist. From his opening tumble down set designer Chantal Thomas’s towering pyramid of hay bales, Grigolo buzzed with life and optimism. His voice was as agile as his boogieing, the phrases swooping and swooning with Italianate suavity. But, Grigolo can do tenderness as well as urgency, and he combined these sentiments with striking expressive beauty in a performance of ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ which brought the house down. Nemorino’s anguish was all the more moving for its juxtaposition with the preceding high jinks of ‘Quanto amore’, but Grigolo pushed on through the second verse, the faster-than-usual tempo ratcheting up the torment, before the wonderfully wilting sighs of the close struck every listener’s heart, including Lucy Crowe’s previously impervious Adina.

Crowe sang with characteristic lucidity, accuracy and sparkle at the top; but, she didn’t quite have the fullness of tone across the whole tessitura of the role or the variety of vocal colour to capture Adina’s changeability and multifariousness — at times, vocally, she seemed rather too ‘angelic’. Crowe did work hard dramatically: perched aloft on the haystack, preening her nails under a scarlet parasol, sunning herself behind outsize scarlet shades, Crowe was a pretty picture of Beckham-esque aloofness, seemingly indifferent to Nemorino’s doting. But, despite all the hip-wriggling and posturing, she showed us Adina’s self-awareness too. Festooned with premature confetti, she might smile for the wedding photographer, but elsewhere she was quick to elude Belcore’s clutches and embraces, her grimaces and hand-wringing revealing her distaste and disquiet.

Adina’s reservations were certainly understandable, for Levente Molnár’s swaggering, baton-swinging Belcore was the embodiment of misogynistic machismo. Slapping his thigh to summon his soon-to-be bride to his lap, Belcore then preceded to bounce his ‘prized possession’ up and down with un-rhythmic oafishness. The Romanian strutted and squared up, and used his powerful baritone most effectively, to suggest Belcore’s burly brutishness and masculine over-confidence. Australian soprano Kiandra Howarth, a Jette Parker Young Artist, was a bright and feisty Gianetta, showing strong stage presence in this minor role.

After a fairly lacklustre overture, conductor Daniele Rustioni drew some characterful playing from the ROH Orchestra — the woodwind solos were particularly jaunty. Towards the close the tempi were a touch impetuous, and at times he pulled ahead of his singers, but on the whole Rustioni ensured a good balance between stage and pit. The ROH Chorus were well-marshalled; if some of their gestures were rather stylised this only served to illustrate the villagers’ lack of imagination and credulity.

Pelly’s production is busy and bustling — the zippy dog is back and raises a chuckle as he races like quicksilver across the stage. But, it is the sorrowful stillness of Nemorino’s lament that truly hits the target. If the mid-November gloom is lowering your spirits and a pick-me-up is needed, then this show is the potion for you.

Claire Seymour

Cast and production information:

Adina, Lucy Crowe; Nemorino, Vittorio Grigolo; Dulcamara, Bryn Terfel ; Belcore, Levente Molnár; Giannetta,Kiandra Howarth; Director,Laurent Pelly; Revival director, Daniel Dooner; Conductor, Daniele Rustioni; Set designs, Chantal Thomas; Costume designs,Laurent Pelly; Associate costume designer, Donate Marchand; Lighting design, Joël Adam; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House; Royal Opera Chorus. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Tuesday 18th November 2014.

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