Magical Love Potions in Holland Park

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Donizetti L’Elisir D’amore: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Opera Holland Park / Stephen Higgins (conductor), Holland Park, London, 20.7.13. (RB)


Adina: Sarah Tynan
Nemorino: Aldo Di Toro
Belcore: George von Bergen
Dulcamara: Geoffrey Dolton
Gianetta: Rosalind Coad


Director: Pia Furtado
Designer: Leslie Travers

Since its composition in 1832, Donizetti’s sparkling comedy has remained one of the most popular and best loved operas in the repertoire. With its charming Basque country setting and its gallery of memorable characters, it has a bubbling effervescent quality which can be enchanting and brilliant in equal measure. The plot involves the love struck Nemorino trying to woo Adina by drinking a magical love potion (which has no effect), unknowingly inheriting some money from his dead uncle, and eventually winning the girl.

The set consisted of fields of giant sunflowers against a blue backdrop with a poster of Adina (in this case, Sarah Tynan) looking carefree and happy in the bucolic setting. The chorus were all wearing blue boiler suits and caps in the first Act with one or two stripping down to dungarees. The chorus and orchestra captured the jaunty brio of the opening section although occasionally the diction could have been clearer. The action was very well choreographed throughout and I was impressed with the dancing with the chorus giving us some ‘Dirty Dancing’ style moves, and Tynan dancing along on top of a truck forming part of the staging.

Nemorino’s opening aria ‘Quanto e bella’ was expressive and lyrical and Di Toro seemed to get better both vocally and dramatically throughout the first Act. He displayed excellent comic timing and seemed to become more and more uninhibited as the action progressed. There was considerable warmth and tone colour in his singing and he showed a deftness and agility in some of the more elaborate vocal writing. Sarah Tynan’s Adina was glorious from start to finish and she did an excellent job in depicting her character’s dramatic arc throughout the first Act. She demonstrated considerable vocal versatility and brilliance and was equally adept in the intricate coloratura, in the more sultry and impassioned singing and in some of the elegant and light vocal numbers.

George von Bergen captured the pompous qualities of Belcore and made the most of the comic possibilities. His tone was a little thin at the beginning but like the others he rose to the occasion as the action became more animated and the vocal writing increasingly brilliant. Geoffrey Dolton’s opening aria ‘Udite, udite, o rustici’ was nimble and light as he showed the scheming but bumbling Dulcamara working the peasants and trying to flog them his quack potions. The scene between Di Toro and Dolton was particularly good with both performers underlining the irony of the situation and injecting considerable momentum into the drama. At the end of the Act, all of the performers had succeeded in whipping the action up to a light and fluffy soufflé.

In Act 2 the chorus switched from their boiler suits to a variety of colourful peasant costumes and the sunflower backdrop remained. The lighting became more subdued to reflect the greater intimacy of the dramatic proceedings. The Act kicked off with the wedding party (for Adina and Belcore) in full swing with all the performers maintaining the momentum at the conclusion of the first Act. The duet between Adina and Dulcamara was flowing and elegant with both performers blending perfectly and working in sync with the orchestra. Rosalind Coad was excellent both vocally and dramatically in the role of Gianetta: following her lead the female cast members became a writhing mass of bodies all intent at throwing themselves at the incredulous Nemorino. Di Toro gave a highly sensuous and soulful performance of ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ showing excellent control of tone and dynamics. Tynan produced a soft and radiant tone for her final scene with Nemorino investing her character with warmth and humanity. L’Elisir D’Amore is a very human story with real characters and we were able to witness the evolution of their feelings and the development of their characters during the course of the opera.

The orchestra of Opera Holland Park were on sparkling form throughout and Stephen Higgins did a splendid job in keeping the big chorus and ensemble numbers on track while providing a flexible accompaniment to the singers. The harp and woodwind were particularly fine in ‘Una furtiva lagrima’. Occasionally, the balance in some of the big numbers could have been slightly better but this is a very minor quibble in what was a superb production.

Altogether, this production is a triumph and I hope that Higgins, Tynan, Di Toro and the rest of the ensemble get an opportunity to show it more widely.

Robert Beattie