L’elisir d’amore, Opera Holland Park

A rather prosaic setting for this
tender tale of amorous affection, one might think, but in fact the backdrop of
infinite fields of golden-headed sunflowers aspiring eagerly towards the fresh
azure above, was a neat complement to the scorching summer sun outside.

Back in the factory, the workers busied themselves with seeds, samples and
solutions, clad in trademark royal-blue industrial overalls, overseen by two
advertising trailers bearing the portrait of the sunflower-goddess, Adina, amid
a sunny pastoral paradise. Ordering the workers back to work, the boss herself
overlooked the sneaky entry of a ragged brigand, one Dr Dulcamara, who
proceeded to pilfer the pods and potions for his own chemical cocktails.

An interesting start, but sadly, despite designer Leslie Travers’
appealing vistas, one which didn’t really add up and quickly ran out of
steam. By Act 2, with the ‘peasants’ stripped of their boiler suits and
arrayed in their finery for the wedding of Belcore and Adina, the sunflowers
seemed pretty irrelevant and the tray-laden trolleys, clumped together
centre-stage, a redundant intrusion.

The charm of the work lies in its perfect balance of tenderness and wit, and
both were somewhat lacking in this production. Only when Nemorino suggestively
sponged the larger-than-life mascot-Adina — an endearing moment of naÔve,
dreamy wish-fulfilment — was a chuckle raised. Elsewhere the comedy —
goose-stepping soldiers, some ‘racy’ goings-on in the trailer — was too
slapstick, at times Monty Python-esque, and didn’t allow the humanity of the
characters to shine through. The Holland Park Chorus, although accurate and
well-marshalled, lacked the brightness of tone that was such an invigorating
force in the season’s earlier production of The Pearl Fishers. There
was little sense of a community of friends and fellows having fun, and too
often the chorus were arranged in static clusters. Even the final chorus, when
the opportunistic Dulcamara coolly cashes in on the success of his miracle
medicine, was rather muted and restrained.

The sluggish tempi adopted by conductor Steven Higgins didn’t help
matters. Higgins was practical and precise, and the players of the City of
London Sinfonia performed, as they have done throughout the season, with
customary clarity and a sure sense of a well-turned phrase. But Higgins used
large gestures when small ones would have been more efficient, and didn’t
quite pull off the Rossinian crescendo-accelerando, often labouring in four
beats in a bar when slipping into two would have spurred things along more
swiftly and slickly.

Fortunately a saviour was at hand, in the form of Sarah Tynan’s wonderful
Adina. Following two recent, stellar turns in the role at English National
Opera, Tynan is a total natural as the capricious minx with an essentially good
heart. Factory owner or foreman, it wasn’t quite clear, but she was certainly
master of the proceedings, the absolute star of the show. Coolly confident,
there was not a note or nuance that was not fully in her command and, although
Furtado seemed to have offered little direction, Tynan used every shade of her
luscious soprano to sparkling dramatic effect, her voice agile, vibrant and
unfailingly sweet.

She was well-matched by Aldo Do Toro as Nemorino. Returning to Holland Park
after his well-received performance in a darker Donizettian mode, as Edgardo in
Lucia, Do Toro once again revealed a warm, well-focused tenor,
well-equipped to rise to the heights with no sense of strain. Simple and
trusting, moving easily about the stage, he was an engaging and lovable dolt
although, despite the pseudo-scientific interventions of Dulcamara, there was
not much chemistry between Do Toro and Tynan.

Paradoxically, when things needed to settle back and unwind more languidly,
Steven Higgins hurried along. Do Toro’s lines were smooth and well-shaped in
the sentimental ‘Una furtive lagrima’, but he needed a few moments of
relaxed expansion to do full justice to the Italianate lyricism.

Baritone George von Bergen was a consistent Belcore. One of the troops, as
opposed to the commanding officer, this Belcore was more bluff and bluster than
military might, but in his Act 1 aria, ‘Come Paride vezzoso’, von Bergen
demonstrated a resonant lower register. An overly heavy vibrato occasionally
marred the focus though, dulling the brightness and diminishing the impression
of Belcore’s swaggering self-adulation. Rosalind Coad was a characterful
Giannetta with an aptly mischievous tint to her voice.

Which brings us to the calculating chancer whose medicinal machinations are
honoured in the opera’s title. Standing in at short notice for the indisposed
Richard Burkhard, Geoffrey Dolton presented an idiosyncratic, but not wholly
successful, interpretation of Dulcamara, far removed from the usual glib
self-publicist and confident conman. Low-key, preferring to skulk in the
shadows than parade in the spotlight, Dolton sang competently but rather
blandly; assuming that the factory workers had a little scientific nous at
their disposal, being familiar with tinctures to ‘make the garden grow’, it
was hard to believe that they would be duped by Dulcamara’s rather lacklustre
sales-pitch, ‘Udite, udite, o rustici’ (the anachronistic term
‘peasants’ being typical of the disappointing surtitles which also at times
took considerable liberties with the libretto).

Dolton’s duet with Tynan, ‘Io son ricco e tu sei bella’, is intended
to wow the wedding-feast guests and should be a show-stopping party-piece, but
on this occasion there was little festive fizz; with his light and flexible
baritone, Dolton can despatch Donizetti’s decorative flounces, but his voice
does not really have the weight for this role. He was probably hampered too by
Furtado’s sometimes underwhelming direction, particularly in Act 2, but this
was a shame for an ironically masterful Dulcamara can convince us all that the
tale is more than mere barmy nonsense.

L’elisir d’amore continues in rep until 3 August — go for
Tynan’s dazzling Adina alone.

Claire Seymour

Cast and production information:

Adina, Sarah Tynan; Nemorino, Aldo Di Toro; Belcore, George von
Bergen; Dulcamara, Geoffrey Dolton; Giannetta, Rosalind
Cold; Director, Pia Furtado; Designer, Leslie Travers; Lighting Designer, Colin
Grenfell; Conductor, Steven Higgins; City of London Sinfonia; Opera Holland
Park Chorus. Opera Holland Park, Tuesday, 16th July 2013.

image_description=L’elisir d’amore, Opera Holland Park
product_title=L’elisir d’amore, Opera Holland Park
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above image by Opera Holland Park