Lover’s Little Helper

Pretty Yende as Adina and Liparit Avetisyan as Nemorino, photo by Bill Cooper

Lover’s Little Helper 

L’elisir d’amore: opera buffa in two acts; music composed by Gaetano Donizetti; libretto by Felice Romani, based on Le Philtre, by Daniel-François-Esprit Auber; conductor Bertrand de Billy; director Laurent Pelly; revival director Daniel Dooner; Royal Opera House, 27th May 2017, reviewed by Leslie Jones

The elixir of love comes in various guises. There is the dubious concoction, or Elisir Dulcamara (cheap red wine, in reality) that is peddled to gullible farm workers by Dulcamara, a consummate cynic and a somewhat unlikely doctor, given his tattoos and his sharp suit. According to the dashing and self-confident recruiting Sergeant Belcore, however, it is a uniform that makes a man irresistible, for “There is no girl who can withstand the aspect of a soldier”. Or is money the true elixir of love, as Nemorino (Armenian tenor Liparit Avetisyan) seemingly discovers, when a timely inheritance (deus ex machina) transforms him from country bumpkin, unlucky in love, into the most eligible bachelor in the neighbourhood? Or does Adina (soprano Pretty Yende, in her Royal Opera debut) possibly possess the only genuine asset in the attraction department, to wit, her undoubted female charms?

Richard Wagner considered opera a “total work of art” (Gesamtkunstwerk), because a synthesis of all of the arts, including acting. And in this, the fourth revival of Laurent Pelly’s production, first staged at Covent Garden in November 2007, two performers in particular excelled in this department, namely baritone Paolo Bordogna, as Belcore, and bass-baritone Alex Esposito, as Dulcamara. Bordogna, with his expressive, almost manic body language and his wide range of gestures, possesses genuine comic talent. But so too does Esposito, with his machine-gun, staccato vocal delivery, and his hard sell of the “universal elixir” which can cure anything from impotence to poverty, in the aria Udite, udite, o rustici.

A live dog that runs across the stage; one tall and one very small soldier; a tractor driven into a crowd by Nemorino, when inebriated; L’elisir d’amore has all of the essential elements of farce. Yet there is also an unforgettable moment of pathos towards the end of Act I, when Nemorino is transformed into a pitiful and wretched figure. In total despair, in the aria Adina, credimi, te ne scongiuro, he implores his beloved to delay her wedding to Belcore by just one day, by when, he naively believes, the love potion will begin to work. The farm workers gather around in an affecting display of sympathy and solidarity and Adina clearly pities him. Evidently, even the Dramma giocoso (drama with jokes) ultimately depends on such moments of catharsis.

Picture from Wonders in the Dark; Giulietta Masina in Nights of Cabiria, a film by Federico Fellini

DR LESLIE JONES is Editor of QR

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