Lighter fare: Vancouver Opera's The Elixir of Love
The second production in Vancouver Opera's 2017/18 season, this production of L'elisir d'amore takes place in Canada in the early 1900s. With a gazebo setting that looks like it could play double duty for a performance of The Music Man, this production is light, and incredibly funny, and complete with an ice cream truck and a sidecar Vespa that drive on and off the stage.
In Act I we see the lovesick Nemorino (Andrew Haji) trying desperately to get the attention of Adina (Ying Fang). In this production he's constantly trying to edge his way over to her, while awkwardly pushing several children out of his way in a scene that is as funny as it is playful. The staging for this whole production was very lighthearted, but with an excellent sense of comedic timing, and I can't remember when I've laughed more at an opera.
With the entry of Belcore (Brett Polegato), playing a WWI recruiting Sergeant who entices the young men to join the army. Polegato’s arrogant swagger was the perfect foil to Haji’s awkward Nemorino, and his "Come Paride vezzoso" was beautifully warm and full. In addition to being a great comedic character, Polegato had some great physical comedy, whether in a boxing match with one of the chorus members, seducing the wrong woman, or walking across stage eating a whole pie, his Belcore constantly made me laugh. His self-assuredness was wonderful to watch, while still creating a very sympathetic character, despite being the villain of the piece. His occasional interjections of "venti scudi" during act II, trying to convince Haji to go with him, had the audience in stitches over and over again.
Dr. Dulcamara (Stephen Hegedus), who tries to sell everyone on his cure-all potion was just as funny. Hegedus putted onto the scene in a sputtering Vespa, wearing the most outrageous purple suit as he harangued his long-suffering assistant. Dulcamara expertly worked the crowd through the merits of his potion, full of bluster and flourish, and his voice was rich and strong, and displayed great agility in some of the faster passages. Hegedus was brilliant in his comic interplay between the fake face he gives to the other characters and the interjections with his assistant, or his interludes to himself. When he believes his elixir is actually working in Act II, his reactions are incredibly funny, without taking anything away from his beautiful vocal performance.
Adina, played by soprano Ying Fang, has a beautiful light voice, but her lower registers were difficult to hear, and her voice was nearly impossible to hear when the chorus was singing, in the ensembles, or when the orchestra was playing. She also opted out of a lot of the florid coloratura that this role is known for.
Soprano Elaina Moreau, who made her VO debut as Gianetta, Adina's close friend and confidante, had a lovely moment in her Act II aria/chorus "Saria possibile?", and the ensuing scene with the chorus women and Nemorino was charming and hilarious.
The production itself is lovely, full of vivacious spirit and wonderful moments of comedy. The costumes and set pieces are lovely, and the VO chorus and supernumeraries were charming and funny as the townspeople, recruits, and assistants under the direction of chorus master Leslie Dala.
The VO orchestra was in fine form, led ably under the direction of Jonathan Darlington, and the direction of Brenda Corner after James Robinson was endlessly funny, uplifting, and delightful. So often choruses are cast as a single group of people, given a single direction, and are there to provide background while standing around, and yet the chorus direction for this production was endlessly amusing. From the tomboy redhead who tries to awkwardly seduce Nemorino, to the little girl who cries when her flowers are stolen, there were always so many great moments to watch, even in the instrumental moments; it was always funny, clever, and made the whole production so much more fun.
L'elisir d'amore runs at Vancouver Opera through January 27. For details and ticket information, follow our box office links below.
L'Elisir d'amore is a romantic comedy in which a poor and hapless young man eventually wins the hand of the rich and educated town beauty. The love potion of the title unlocks the secret desires of all the main characters, and along the way the plot takes many amusing twists and turns. Chinese soprano Ying Fang makes her role debut as Adina. All of the other principal roles are sung by exceptional Canadian singers. Tenor Andrew Haji is note-perfect as Adina’s lovesick admirer Nemorino, and enchants in the famous aria “Una furtiva lagrima”. Baritone Brett Plegato is pomposity incarnate as Belcore, Nemorino’s rival for Adina’s affections. Dr. Dulcamara, the huckster selling the fake magic elixir, is sung in suitably wacky style by baritone Stephen Hegedus. This whimsical production is set in a small Canadian town, complete with ice cream truck and gazebo, which perfectly captures the innocence of the story. Music Director Jonathan Darlington has total command of Donizetti’s richly textured score.