July 2015 • The Coade Theatre, Bryanston, Dorset
An opera in two acts by Gaetano Donizetti • Libretto: Felice Romani • Sung in Italian with English subtitles
Young farmhand Nemorino, is in love with the rich but fickle Adina. He spends his last few pence on a love potion from the itinerant quack, Dr Dulcamara. Adina decides she will marry the bombastic recruiting sergeant, Belcore. Distraught, Nemorino buys a second bottle of elixir, but he can only afford it by enlisting!
The village girls hear that Nemorino’s rich uncle has died (though he and Adina are unaware of the news), and suddenly he is extremely popular. Adina is jealous and piqued by the loss of his complete attention. However, when she hears of his efforts to win her love, she buys his release from the army and agrees to marry him.
Cast & Creative Team
|Nemorino, (tenor) a farmhand||Leonardo Capalbo|
|Adina, (soprano) a young heiress||Angela Mortellaro|
|Gianetta, (soprano) Adina’s best friend||Johane Ansell|
|Belcore, (baritone) captain of the guard||Jeremy Carpenter|
|Dr Dulcamara, (bass) a quack doctor: purveyor of elixir||John Molloy|
|Soldiers and villagers|
|Costume Realisation||Rebecca Hopkins|
|Lighting Designer||Harry Armytage|
|Chorus Director||Nicolas Mansfield|
|Assistant Chorus Master||Benjamin Goodson|
|Orchestra Leader||Robert Gibbs|
While Dorset Opera, with a fair wind, is just about doable in a round trip from London, the 41-year-old festival clearly has a strong local presence. The setting, in the grounds of Bryanston School, is beautiful, the atmosphere informal, and the director Roderick Kennedy is an affable omnipresence. It is all due to his energy that such a high standard is achieved, with a run of three performances each of two operas (plus Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle in Blandford Forum Parish Church).
For their staging of L’elisir d’amore, the director David Phipps-Davis and designer Steve Howell moved the action from a village in Italy to one in England during World War II, with the set made up of enlarged pictures by Brian Cook, the illustrator who created the celebrated 1940s and ‘50s jackets for the Batsford books on English life – highly stylised, rural and urban views, in their way as visionary as Ravilious. Visually stunning and comforting, the set was a continuation of countryside outside the theatre and suited the charm and innocence of Donizetti’s opera down to the ground.
The American soprano Angela Montellaro made Adina’s pragmatic rather than hard-hearted desirability obvious from the start. Her lightly ironic Tristan cavatina set the tone of her playing her two suitors off against each other with a seductive authority that made her capitulation all the more appealing. Mortellaro’s singing had great vitality, technically she was light and spontaneous, and she had great comic timing.
Leonardo Capalbo’s personable Nemorino was gloriously and sweetly sung, and if occasionally his diffident, love-lorn portrayal seemed a little calculated, its pathos still wormed its way into the audience’s affections – and he delivered a wonderfully smooth crescendo of assertion in ‘Una furtiva lagrima’. He was delight as disaster loomed, and a complete charmer as everything came right.
John Molloy’s Dulcamara was a brilliantly pitched buffo turn, sung with enormous verve, and his sulky glamorous assistant (Charlotte Hewett) made a great impression. Jeremy Carpenter gave a solidly sung, triumphant god’s-gift caricature as Belcore, performed with panache, moving swiftly to his next conquest, Johane Ansell’s saucy Giannetta. The chorus excelled with masses of quick-witted cameos and vivid singing, and the conductor Timothy Henty and his Dorset Opera Orchestra were completely in tune with Donizetti’s brio.
As the audience flooded out of the Coade Theatre at Bryanston School on Saturday afternoon, a universal smile of happiness on their faces, it was clear that the 2015 production of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore was a triumph.
It was one of those productions where everything gelled, a delight for the ears and the eyes and a confirmation that comic opera need never be a sellout.
From the first bars of the overture, conducted by Timothy Henty, through the sets by Steve Howell, redolent of 1930s railway posters, to the energy of the performances, this was an afternoon at the opera to the cherished.
Director David Phipps-Davis had the inspiration of moving the setting from its original Italy to Dorset in wartime, with American soldiers charming the local girls and showing up the Dad’s Army Home Guard.
Nemorino, the lovelorn young farmhand pining for the capricious Adina, was played by Leonardo Capalbo, returning to Dorset Opera much to the delight of his many local fans. With his gloriously expressive lyric tenor voice, he brought a real poignancy and desperation to the role of the man who thinks he can buy love in a bottle of snake oil.
The seller is black marketeer “doctor” Dulcamara, in an hilariously over the top performance by the lanky John Molloy, ably supported by the young Dorset soprano Charlotte Hewett as his lovely assistant.
Angela Mortellaro is a perfect Adina, flaunting her wealth, beauty and learning as she plays one man off against another. Seeming to prefer the egocentric US Sergeant Belcore (played to perfection by Jeremy Carpenter), she only realises she loves Nemorino when he’s suddenly surrounded by other women.
The chemistry between Adina and Nemorino was palpable, making her cruelty to the lovelorn young man and wayward flirtation with the handsome American soldier all the more convincing. They were a first-rate trio.
With strong characterisations by members of the Dorset Opera chorus, and direction which made clever use of the whole circular stage and the auditorium too, the production was evidently as enjoyable for the company as for the audience and the excellent orchestra. And even Lord Reginald Pickles deservedly got his own credit!