Longborough Festival Opera
Donizetti’s cosy little l’Elisir d’Amore slips too easily under our radar. It is greedily seized upon by worthy amateur societies, not many principals needed, an orchestra easily cut down, a chorus given quaint village reactions.
Not a bit of it with this wonderful staging from Longborough Festival Opera, joyous, inventive, and totally charming, making even these jaded old eyes and ears aware of what an absolute masterpiece this is in such a gem of a production.
Director Max Hoehn sets the action in a busy little English village, perhaps in the Cotswolds, with evocations of Miss Marple’s St Mary Mead, Father Brown’s Camelford, or even Camberwick Green ( we see a cut-out of Nemorino’s Postman Pat van driving up the hillside). There is no chorus in this presentation; instead everyone has an individual role to play, whether a couple of dotty old ladies, a pair of exquisites, a policeman, a builder permanently nursing a mug of tea, a young girl footballer, a punk/Goth young lady, and others. They act as characters, they sing in fine corpus.
All of this unfolds amid the delightful jigsaw pieces of Jemima Robinson’s set, colourful in themselves, but also resourceful hiding-places for a wide range of props – including a traffic-cone through which important announcements are made.
There are already so many visual delights here, but add to these the musical ones under conductor Alice Farnham, and this confirms itself as a show to treasure. Farnham’s tempi always forward the action, her phrasing of the continually remarkable Longborough Festival Orchestra is unostentatiously shapely, and her beat has a “lift” just perfect to allow room for the singers.
And what soloists we have here! Thando Miandana is such a sympathetic Nemorino, not the usual wet in so many lazy productions, but someone who knows that somehow he will win his haughty Adina, who is here portrayed as such a feisty character by Jennifer Witton, effortless in her fioriture and in ,the range of her tessitura, powerful in her delivery (I wonder if we might be seeing a future Heldensopran?), and so communicative in her body-language.
The swashbuckling military-man Belcore, briefly interesting Adina, is Arthur Bruce, making much of the role’s spurious glamour, and sharing with Miandana a wonderful extended scene when he is persuading Nemorino to take the King’s Shilling to buy a further supply of the eponymous love potion from the quack Dr Dulcamara.
Dulcamara himself is brilliantly conveyed by Emyr Wyn Jones, more of a Del Boy drinks purveyor (they all queue round with their contactless cards to purchase his wares) than anything else, but also purveyor of convincing patter, a far more engaging assumption of character than we usually see in tedious old men portrayals.
There is another soloist, village-girl Giannetta, antennae into everything, bombing about on a scooter here (is this becoming a director’s cliché?), and enchantingly portrayed by Haegee Lee.
Donizetti’s miraculous score brings so many duetting pairings along the way, and they all fizz with vigour, and the clarity of Italian diction is exemplary.
Just one cavil: l’Elisir was premiered in 1832, Wagner’s Lohengrin in 1850, by which time Donizetti had been dead for two years. To insert a sniggling quote from Wagner’s Bridal Chorus into this otherwise perfect production of the Donizetti, was juvenile and unworthy.