L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

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

image_description=Vittorio Grigolo as Nemorino and Lucy Crowe as Adina [Photo by Mark Douet © ROH]
product_title=L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: Vittorio Grigolo as Nemorino and Lucy Crowe as Adina [Photo by Mark Douet © ROH]