He said/she said: a sweet Elixir at the COC
Jenna: Opera lovers certainly enjoy their gravitas, their 12-minute-long scenes of crisis and cerebral combinations of commedia dell'arte, Jungian psychology, and contemporary political mirrors. Yet if you're going to see a show full of well-loved plot devices and impossibly catchy music that leaves a decidedly saccharine taste in your mouth, that show had better run with its sunny disposition, 110%.
James Robinson's production of The Elixir of Love, onstage at the Four Seasons Centre through November 4, certainly radiates that Pleasantville-like warmth that seems in perfect harmony with Donizetti's light-hearted bel canto writing. The stage is populated by exaggerated folks, each embodying a trademark physicality that stands not only for their characters as individuals, but for the larger archetypes they represent.
Jenna: I have two disclaimers to make. The first is that I find The Elixir of Love to be impossibly hokey and full of frustration. The music is happy and warm, and there's a good mix of vocal pyrotechnics and tunes to make the ladies weep; yet it's not Donizetti's most arresting score. Adina is certainly whip-smart and pretty, but her magnetism feels suspiciously like a case of a big fish in a small pond; I always find myself wishing Nemorino had had the chance to travel a bit - a solo backpacking trip, say - before declaring himself so hopelessly in love with Adina.
Disclaimer number two: three of the four leads are voices - and people - that I've known for some time, with whom I've had the great pleasure of working. It was more than a little thrilling to see Simone Osborne (Adina), Andrew Haji (Nemorino), and Gordon Bintner (Belcore) sharing the stage; they're young stars, and entirely in their elements as leading roles on one of the world's major operatic stages. This Elixir features a "young cast", and a cast that offers thoughtful, developed layers to these oft-simplified characters. Bravi, friends!
Greg: Simone Osborne's Adina was charming to the fullest. She had that wonderful quality - I also attribute it to Disney's Belle, where the "princess" is decidedly different (which often in these period pieces means literate/educated) - where she can point out where she excels in life and not have people become resentful of them. Couple that with the gorgeous voice of Osborne's and you have an Adina that's charming, funny, and empathetic. You felt her palpable connection to her castmates and she oozed charisma.
Jenna: Bias aside, this Elixir seemed perfectly cast. Bintner's cartoon-like physicality was hilarious, and he had a total knack for striking a gallant pose in between telling moments of acting like a jerk (stealing from children, for one). He found that sweet spot with his singing, where the voice nestled in with the comedy and pomposity of Belcore; he had focus and clarity to every phrase, but none of it came at the cost of breaking character. The same can be said about Osborne's Adina, where she flexed some serious singing chops alongside some comedy skills that struck me as a rare find among the soprano's COC stage time.
Greg: Gordon Bintner as Belcore was, to run with this Beauty and the Beast parallel, a great Gaston-like character, only far more lovable. There were elements of Monty Python and Kids in the Hall as he marched and swaggered across the stage. The singing was fantastic as well. A dreamboat with a powerful and agile voice, I felt totally at ease believing that Adina would agree to marry him. Belcore isn't a malicious man, he's just too confident for a town that size.
Jenna: The wide-eyed youth of the leads found a perfect foil in Andrew Shore as Dulcamara. Rough and seasoned, Shore seemed a snake oil salesman pulled from the pages of every story ever told. He had the air of a con man who had been conning for so long that he could dive into his routine on no notice at all, even when he accidentally stumbles into the small town in Robinson's production. He knew when to chatter and when to bluster, all the while staying likable. An added bonus: Shore's Dulcamara seemed on a similar fashion wavelength to Schmopera's own Greg Finney:
Greg: Andrew Shore marks a COC debut in the role of the snake oil salesman Doctor Dulcamara. In a role I'd love to play I found myself watching a master of the craft doing his thing and hoping I can grow up to be him some day. His Dulcamara was charming, gregarious, and brought about endless smiles and laughter. The expert execution of Donizetti's patter was inspiring. If you're lucky, you'll get the chance to see this master at work.
Jenna: The show really did seem to go to Haji as Nemorino. It's the most settled I've yet heard him sing, and he seemed to have tons of room for spontaneity and risk in each phrase. His Nemorino was someone who had you on his side almost immediately, rooting for him in his drunken confidence in the face of a disapproving Adina. Haji's Nemorino didn't whine or pine; instead, he took the refreshing route of unashamed honesty, piquing Adina's curiosity by being one of the few (only?) men in her life who presents himself as just that - himself. It brought to mind that line from The Office, when Kelly Kapoor muses, "I mean, who says exactly what they're thinking? What kind of game is that?"
Greg: Andrew Haji was the reason to see this show for me. He was on top of his game. His voice was velvety smooth and effortless. His bright placement made his diction clear and easy. His "Una furtiva lagrima" brought the show to a standstill. His singing is always noteworthy, and opening night of this Donizetti was no exception. His Nemorino was adorable, forthright in his honesty.
Greg: James Robinson directed an honest and touching production. The show in general is pretty fluffy right down to the source material, and given circumstances this production makes no apologies for it. The set and costumes by Allen Moyer and Martin Pakledinaz respectively, were airy and full of nostalgia but I was a little confused as to whether it was American or British (either would have been fine). It did have a very Oklahoma! kind of feel. I would also like to commend Pakledinaz for his choice of haberdashery for Doctor Dulcamara.
Jenna: The music and the set seemed to click with little conflict. There seemed a very American feel to Allen Moyer's sets, despite the insistence on a British influence (flags and war propaganda posters, et cetera); both worked for establishing the familiar, small-town feel to the show. In the orchestra pit, Yves Abel seemed to let the music tumble along, finding comedy and variety when needed, without spoiling the night's more luxurious moments.
Greg: I found Yves Abel's conducting was clean and well-balanced, but I found the tempi to be a bit on the safer side. It almost felt as if all the numbers erred on the side of moderato. The chorus sang really well and exhibited some great dynamic work.
Jenna: All in all, I walked out of The Elixir of Love with a lasting smile. The singing is top-notch, and the piece - saccharine as it may be - flows without ego or imposition. It's a chance to laugh out loud, and see piled on one stage four artists that are stellar in their crafts.
The Elixir of Love runs until November 4. For details and ticket information, follow our box office links below.
The Elixir of Love
The Cinderella story is presented with a twist as a poor and uneducated young man dreams of winning the heart of a rich, clever and beautiful woman. Donizetti’s delicious romantic comedy is as intoxicating as Doctor Dulcamara’s potion, the elixir of love.
Photo: Michael Cooper.