L’elisir D’Amore
The Elixir of Love

Reviewer's rating

L’Elisir d’Amore, composed in six weeks, is one of the most performed of Donizetti’s operas, and in the top 20 of most performed operas worldwide. Donizetti wanted his librettist Romani to add an aria to Scribe’s original libretto.  Romani refused, saying it was ridiculous in an opera buffa for an idiot to sing a crying aria. Donizetti got his way; ‘una furtiva lagrima’ is one of the best tenor arias of all time. The legendary Enrico Caruso sang three repeats at La Scala in 1901, and there are a few Caruso recordings one can hear; they are fascinating listening!

Elisir demonstrates the Romantic trait of the Triumph of Sincerity.

An idiot peasant, Nemorino, (translates as ‘a little-nothing’), sincerely loves Adina, a capricious wealthy landowner who constantly taunts him, even agreeing to marry the vain insincere flirt, Sergeant Belcore (‘good-heart’). Dr. Dulcamara (sweet-bitter), a travelling quack hits town selling cure-all potions. Nemorino, having no money signs up for the army to pay for his love elixir. Adina buys back Nemorino’s commission, finally declaring her love. Sincerity triumphant.

Life imitating art, Donizetti really was commissioned for the army, but a wealthy landowner bought back Donizetti’s commission, although they never married!

French director Laurent Pelly was responsible for the brilliant Florez/Dessay Fille du Regiment; anyone who saw it will never forget it. This is another revival of his 2014 Elisir set in 1950’s and is as brilliant ever, full of sun, haystacks, wit, Vespas, and a little dog. There is not a boring moment; it is a joy from start to finish, and a perfect starter opera. He could teach Adele Thomas a thing or two about directing for longevity; her dire short-expiry date ROH Trovatore was universally hated by cast and audience.

L’elisir is pure belcanto, both Adina and Nemorino requiring beautiful singing, long phrases, and good coloratura.

(ADINA) Nadine Sierra, (NEMORINO) Liparit Avetisyan

American soprano Nadine Sierra as Adina is stunning in her overdue ROH debut, with legs to die for! I have always hated the phrase ‘the fat lady sings’; Sierra proves that ‘the thin lady sings’ too; she is the star of the show. With Lucia and Violetta in her repertoire, she has both the coloratura top notes and legato line so her medium-weight soprano perfectly suits Adina. She has interesting variations on the tricky coloratura, spot-on top notes.  It is always odd why Adina suddenly falls for Nemorino, but Sierra pinpoints the moment – everything suddenly changes when Belcore calls Nemorino a ‘buffone’ (idiot); she is upset, realising she truly cares for him. Having heard her before, it is her great comic timing coupled with acting that is a surprise.

Armenian tenor Liparit Avetisyan shot to fame as country bumpkin Nemorino in 2017 substituting indisposed Rolando Villazon. His medium-weight tenor well matches Sierra. With Alfredo and Rodolfo in his repertoire, his Nemorino started deliberately demurely, with ‘quanto é bella’, showing a lovely, tender legato line, gradually gaining confidence in ‘larelarelala’ until he melted everyone’s hearts with ‘una furtiva lagrima’. A touch heavier than 2017, he still clambers up and down ladders and haystacks, even dancing whilst singing!

Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel is a highlight, having fun as conman as Dulcamara (with a touch of Falstaff) in a bright red suit, making a grand entrance from his large van. As villagers flock to buy his fake elixir, his assistants pick-pocket the crowd.  It is a glorious performance, although Terfel missed a trick in not whistling through the 3-toothed diplomat verse (io son ricco e tu sei bella), which makes it funnier. When selling Nemorino a bottle of Bordeaux instead of Elixir, the witty translation says ‘I’ve seen some prize chumps in my time, but nobody like this’.

(BELCORE) Boris Pinkhasovich, (ADINA) Nadine Sierra, (DR DULCAMARA) Bryn Terfel

Russian baritone Boris Pinkasovich as Belcore goose-steps into town with his army of two! He sings with the right amount of bravura, comedy, posing and oily insincerity, cheerfully switching women when dumped: I would prefer ditching the goose-steps.

Canadian soprano and Jette Parker Artist, Sarah Dufresne, as Giannetta, gives a lovely performance – she sang the gorgeous voice from heaven in Don Carlo recently.

Italian conductor Sestro Quatrini recently left the Lithuanian National Opera as artistic director; this is his ROH debut. The production hurtles at a terrific pace, and he allows welcome artistic pauses, breathing yet more freshness into the production.

The cast and audience had fun throughout.

This is a fantastic, toe-tapping show, and I recommend everyone, especially those new to opera, to go to see it live at the cinema. You will love it!