A Review by George Fleeton © 2013
Donizetti’s operatic ‘Love Potion’ was dispensed in the Market Place Theatre & Arts Centre Armagh on October 11, at the end of its short tour (which had taken in Newtownabbey, Belfast, Omagh and Enniskillen).
Donizetti’s output was prolific (he wrote as many operas, 65, as the combined works of Mozart, Bellini and Rossini), and if you were to catch just four of them they should be: L’elisir d’amore, Maria Stuarda, Lucia di Lammermoor and Don Pasquale, two Scottish tragedies embraced by two Italian comedies – surely the original four course operatic banquet?
While Sir Thomas Beecham’s dictum that ‘a good tune is one which enters the ear with facility and quits the memory with difficulty’ could apply to so many of the well known repertory operas, it seems most applicable to the music of Donizetti, and to L’elisir in particular.
This co-production (a first for NI Opera and Dublin-based Opera Theatre Company) focuses strongly on our penniless hero (nerdy Nemorino) who is about to lose his loved one (English teacher Adina, supercilious and privileged) to a bombastic army sergeant (Belcore), when a charlatan doctor (Dulcamara), a bottle of poitín and a furtive tear save the day.
Not everything worked seamlessly: Nemorino’s and Adina’s respective journeys to their new selves, as mature lovers, lacked conviction; Dulcamara’s Act 2 party-piece barcarolle – ‘I’m rich, you are beautiful’ – was crudely against the grain; the chorus was frequently ragged, and the tiered classroom set, especially in Act 1, was distractingly ugly, visually bland.
But there was a plethora of imaginative touches in this production: Adina/Anna Patalong’s consistently prissy, buttoned up school-mistress; Dulcamara’s travelling alchemy set; the enlistment, and the Act 1 duet in which Joyce’s Ulysses competes with his Finnegan’s Wake: all well paced, and underpinned by an Ulster Orchestra team of fourteen instruments, playing away from home, under David Brophy’s idiomatic direction.
And it was the music that won on the night, music which, unlike that of Rossini for example, was neither borrowed, adapted, imitated nor recycled.
The Una furtiva lagrima romanza, a piece which contrasts with everything else in the score (English translation not credited in the programme), was poorly lit – we do like to see our singers singing – but beautifully taken by tenor Anthony Flaum.
Although this was, I think, NI Opera’s ninth opera in three years, the only previous one I have attended was Wagner’s Dutchman (reviewed here on February 27 last at
And see also
The best recording of L’elisir, in my biased view (the Caruso, Gigli and Bergonzi versions not being available) is on Decca (1969), with Pavarotti and Sutherland at their respective peaks.