Life-affirming comedy in Dala-Floda – the perfect antidote to current world problems

SwedenSweden Donizetti, Kärleksdrycken (L’elisir d’amore): Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra / Miguel Ramos (conductor). Björbo IOGT, Dala-Floda, 30.7.2023. (GF)

Jessica Elevant (Adina) © Göran Forsling

Director – Christina Ros
Costumes – Christina Ros, Birgitta Federley
Sets – Christina Ros, Kjell Wanselius
Lighting design – Bengt Norling, Erik Johansson
Props – Christina Ros, Lars Redhe
Masks – Julia Mattei
Wigs – Ewa Barrsved Larsson

Adina – Jessica Elevant
Nemorino – Joel Forsström
Belcore – Karl Peter Eriksson
Dulcamara – Erik Johansson
Gianetta – Elisabeth Leyser
Linus – Teodor Frej

This year’s opera festival in the little village Dala-Floda, in the province of Dalecarlia in the heart of Sweden, is the thirteenth since its inception, and I have had the pleasure to report my impressions from the very beginning. It is a unique festival, focusing not only on opera and concerts but also on the development of young people with ‘special’ talents. It is also a people’s festival, insofar as more or less the entire village is involved in one way or other. Everyone can contribute in some way.

This year, at the suggestion Dala-Floadian Lena Nordén, it was decided to do something light-hearted and entertaining, as an antithesis to war, terrorism and the cruelty that surrounds us in today’s world. Thus the festival management settled on Donizetti’s Kärleksdrycken (operas are always performed in the vernacular in Dala Floda), an excellent choice, since Kärleksdrycken is easy to understand, amusing, filled with beautiful music, there are not too many roles to fill and it can be performed with a reduced orchestra to good effect – and all rejoice in the finale. In that respect it is a valuable, though utopic, antidote to the trauma unfolding around us.

The orchestra is minimal: a string quintet who play the original string parts with an added piano covering the essential wind solos. It works surprisingly well, and the signature trumpet fanfare heralding the arrival of the charlatan doctor Dulcamara is played with bravura by the chorister Julia Mattei. Director Christina Ros, who also deals in costumes, props and sets, has located the story in a café in the countryside – probably in Dala Floda, as there often is a local twist to productions here – but the story follows Romani’s original libretto, sung in Magnus Lindman’s congenial translation.

The story is well-known: Nemorino is secretly in love with Adina, but doesn’t dare tell her, and she is not interested in getting tied up with any man. But Sergeant Belcore comes to the village on a recruitment tour to enlist new soldiers. He proposes to Adina, and Nemorino is heartbroken. Enter Doctor Dulcamara, offering medicaments that can cure anything, including lovesickness. Nemorino buys a bottle of his love elixir and waits for the result …

Ros has certainly done a great job creating individual characters among the choristers, who indulge in their ‘roles’ wholeheartedly, and it is a great pleasure to experience how amateurs and professionals can collaborate so effortlessly – though behind all this no doubt there is a lot of hard rehearsal work. However, the ultimate proof of successful rehearsals is that the acting looks entirely spontaneous – and it does. And the choral singing greatly contributed to this success. A big armful of roses to everyone involved! As for the performance in general, there is not a dull moment. Bubbling along with infectious high spirits, it never resorts to cheap slapstick humour.

The eminent pickup orchestra, under the safe direction of Miguel Ramos, is also worthy of great praise. In the relatively small venue that Björbo IOGT constitutes, a string quintet produces quite a meaty sound and pianist Ola Ottosson deputised honourably for the wind instruments, even though initially it was a bit odd to hear the bassoon solo in the introduction to ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ played on the piano.

Joel Forsström (Nemorino) and Erik Johansson (Dulcamara) © Göran Forsling

I have left the soloists until the end of the review since this is first and foremost a singers’ opera. Nemorino the simpleton was sung by the affable Joel Forsström. What an uncertain, ungainly farmhand, one felt sorry for him – but at the same time he radiated charm aplenty and was a true comedian, singing the role with disarming simplicity and beauty, as well as seasoning his recitatives with his piquant Finnish-Swedish accent.

Adina, the coolest bride in town, according to the cast-list, was also a born comedienne – of the hard-boiled kind. Jessica Elevant, a superb Musetta in La bohème two years ago, contrasted eminently well with the meek Nemorino and her singing was hurricane-like, powerful and penetrating.

She softened considerably when the nonchalant and cocky Belcore entered in dazzlingly white uniform, trying to impress all the females. Karl Peter Eriksson, whose Schaunard was the glory of last year’s La bohème, has enormous charisma and dominates every scene when he is present. His vocal resources are quite imposing.

Charisma is also Erik Johansson’s hallmark. He has played comic roles in many operas at Dala-Floda through the years, often in full beard. As Dulcamara, on the other hand, he was clean-shaven, with sideburns, the spitting image of Elvis Presley. He even indulged in some pelvis gymnastics, of the kind that made teenage girls swoon in the 1950s, when he sang the fake-doctor’s entrance song, one of the greatest buffo arias in the repertoire. The four central characters were certainly inspired, and the joyful atmosphere also reached beyond the footlights and filled the auditorium. The fifth wheel, Gianetta, has less to sing, but Elisabeth Leyser’s charismatic acting still made her a vivid personality. And we shouldn’t forget Linus, the little errand boy dressed in white, crept in, picked up a bottle from the bar and disappeared just as discreetly as he had appeared. Teodor Frej was warmly applauded at the curtain calls.

Besides all the excellence I have accounted for above, I must also commend the perfect enunciation of the text by both soloists and choristers. Every single syllable could be heard. The sum of all this was riveting, light-hearted entertainment that for a couple of hours made us forget the world around us. Thank you, Lena Nordén, for your initiative, and thank you to all performers and those who worked behind the stage. You have made life a little easier to live!

Göran Forsling

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