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Reviews

<em>L’elisir d’amore</em>, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
28 May 2017

A sunny L'elisir d'amore at the Royal Opera House

Theresa May could do with a Doctor Dulcamara in the Conservative Cabinet: his miracle pills for every illness from asthma to apoplexy would slash the NHS bill - and, if he really could rejuvenate the aged then he’d solve the looming social care funding crisis too.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Pretty Yende as Adina and Liparit Avetisyan as Nemorino

Photo credit: Bill Cooper

 

It’s the bank holiday weekend and the sun is shining, both here in London and over the wheat fields and haystacks of 1950s rural Italy as conjured by Laurent Pelly and designer Chantal Thomas for their 2007 production of L’elisir d’amore, which is back at the ROH for its fourth revival. Last time round, in 2014, the big draw was Bryn Terfel making his first essay at the role of the fraudulent quack. On this occasion, we had the opportunity to hear both exciting ‘newcomers’ to the House, with South African soprano Pretty Yende making her ROH debut, and familiar returnees, with Italian bass-baritone Alex Esposito stepping into the duplicitous doctor’s boots for his role debut.

cBC20170525_L'elisir_0269 ALEX ESPOSITO AS DULCAMARA c ROH. PHOTO BILL COOPER.jpgAlex Esposito (Dulcamara). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

Three years ago, I described Terfel’s Dulcamara as ‘less sleazy smooth-operator and more grimy grease-ball’. Esposito’s swindler is even nastier: a veritable bruiser. Unshaven, dirty, with tattooed biceps and a contemptuous sneer, this Dulcamara’s dodginess couldn’t be hidden by designer shades and a scruffy white lab coat. No wonder the villagers scattered in advance of his arrival despite their excited chorus of expectation, but the strength of his call to his customers - ‘Udite, udite, o rustici’ - compelled, rather than charmed, them back. Esposito’s tone was wonderfully firm and strongly coloured. There was simply no arguing with his bullish self-promotion, as his side-kicks peered mischievously from beneath the dilapidated medic-truck watching their master humiliate and fleece his dupes. This Dulcamara could barely take the trouble to feign professionalism or concern, so gullible were the eager elixir-gulpers, and a grimy white ti-shirt poked out beneath the sleazy red suit he donned for the nuptial celebrations. In contrast, Esposito took great care with the text and the line; the grace notes in ‘lo son ricco’ were deliciously deft as the doctor made his pitch for Adina.

Pretty Yende’s Adina could look after herself though. Yende’s voice is plumper and more ample than the crystalline soprano of Lucy Crowe who took the part in 2014, and this gave Adina more obvious presence and self-possession: she pouted and posed with the panache of a 1950s Hollywood starlet. If Yende had any nerves on her first night at Covent Garden, she didn’t show them: her soprano was full and warm from the off, and she strolled through the arias with the ease, beauty and grace with which Adina lounged on the haystacks beneath a parasol. She was a feisty match for Liparit Avetisyan’s Nemorino in their Act 2 duet; the pause at the close was judged perfectly, allowing us to register the strength of the fiery emotions. But, Yende had the full measure of Adina’s heart and allowed her essential tenderness to shine through - as when revealing the extent of Nemorino’s delusions (he thinks because he worships her, she must return his love) to Belcore. Her Act 3 ‘Prendi, per me sei libero’ was absolutely exquisite, the coloratura roulades tumbling like jewels, the highest reaches clean and pure. It’s been quite a month for Yende: she’s won the International Achiever Award at the 23th annual South African Music Awards and her Sony Classical release, A Journey won the 2017 International Opera Award for Best Recording (Solo Recital). There will surely be many more such accolades.

cBC20170525_L'elisir_0404  LIPARIT AVETISYAN AS NEMORINO c ROH. PHOTO BILL COOPER.jpgLiparit Avetisyan (Nemorino). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

Armenian tenor Avetisyan made his ROH debut earlier this season (as Alfredo Germont in Il traviata) and found himself back in the House following the withdrawal of the previously advertised Rolando Villazón took a while to warm up as Nemorino; initially a rather rapid vibrato made his tenor somewhat tight and he was occasionally just under the note. But, as the ‘elixir’ (a bottle of Bordeaux) worked its magic, so Avetisyan relaxed into the role, and his impish charm - he hoisted a bale aloft with nonchalant swagger, and his chirpy knee-and-elbow wiggle of glee raised a grin - was as winning as his appealing, pliable tenor. The big test was, as always, ‘Una furtive lagrima’, and Avetisyan sailed through; unaffected and focused, he let Donizetti’s expressive lyricism do the work and the aria cast its spell - time stood still as if the whole House held its breath.

cBC20170525_L'elisir_0536 PAOLO BORDOGNA AS BELCORE, PRETTY YENDE AS ADINA c ROH. PHOTO BILL COOPER.jpgPaolo Bordogna (Belcone) and Pretty Yende (Adina). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

Paolo Bordogna made an impressive ROH debut as a ridiculously pompous Belcore, accompanied by two ‘warriors’ whose mismatched heights and over-enthusiastic goose-stepping added to the preposterousness of their boss’s cocksure conceit. Bordogna enjoyed his character’s pretentiousness, adding some neat details - chest-thumping through a trill, hip-twisting when demanding that Adina ‘Name the day!’, and launching into some impressive acrobatic tumbles down the haystack. His zealousness was not neglected either: Bordogna seemed to have Adina in a head-lock at one point, from which she struggled to extricate herself.

Jette Parker young artist, Vlada Borovko, has impressed me in the past (see Oreste at Wilton's and JPYA Summer Performance 2016 ) and here she was a rich, vibrant Giannetta who relished the opportunity to play to the crowd when delivering the latest gossip about Nemorino - she’s got the news from the haberdasher, so it must be true.

The ROH Chorus occasionally found it difficult to pick up conductor Bertrand de Billy’s beat - the opening ensemble was a bit scruffy and de Billy’s zippy accelerando in the closing scene of Act 2 wrong-footed them for a while. But, they kept cool heads and were in fine voice; the blocking and acting was precise and nuanced. The overture felt a bit ‘solid’ and I’d have liked a bit more brightness and sparkle from the ROH Orchestra but the playing was, as always, accomplished.

This was a beguiling evening which got better and better as it went on. The cast were committed to the drama, and there was an occasional sense of spontaneity which added a charming freshness (though, reassuringly, Alfie the dog and the bicycling sweethearts were back). The dashes of realism - the piles of rotting tyres and wonky lampshade that frame the sets of Act 3, the louring clouds on the back-cloth that seem to threaten storms ahead - were outshone by Nemorino’s heart-warming love, optimism and belief. In uncertain times, it’s good to be reminded that sometimes hopes and dreams do come true.

Claire Seymour

Gaetano Donizetti: L’elisir d’amore

Adina - Pretty Yende, Nemorino - Liparit Avetisyan, Dulcamara - Alex Esposito, Belcore - Paolo Bordogna, Giannetta - Vlada Borovko; Director/Costume designer - Laurent Pelly, Revival director - Daniel Dooner, Conductor - Bertrand de Billy, Set designer - Chantal Thomas, Associate costume designer - Donate Marchand, Lighting designer - Joël Adam, Royal Opera Chorus (Concert Master - Peter Manning), Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Saturday 27th May 2017.

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