Daniel Dooner's revival of Laurent Pelly's 2007 production of L'Elisir d'Amore has arrived on the stage of the Royal Opera House. Set in the sun-drenched Italian countryside of the 1950s, this sweet, gently amusing production did not quite succeed in charming the critics off their feet, although it has many undeniable assets.
Firstly, the setting has been almost unanimously described as visually alluring and eliciting a mood of light-heartedness - The Independent's Edward Seckerson dubs it 'incurably cute', while Andrew Clark from the Financial Times articulates: 'it engagingly modernises Donizetti's comedy without destroying the naive charm at its heart'.
Yet this positive start is soon overshadowed by a feeling that a certain something is missing: 'Maybe the elixir needs another stir: on the evidence of Tuesday's opening night, this revival has solidity but not much sparkle', writes the Financial Times. Similarly, The Guardian's Martin Kettle feels that 'the essential warmth of the piece [...] is too often missing'.
A recurring complaint regarded the 'over-emphatic' treatment of the chorus: The Times' Neil Fisher mourned the 'relentless semaphore' of the chorus, who seemed to him detached from stage action and addressing the audience alone. Similarly, Claire Seymour from Opera Today was perplexed by how the chorus would inconsistently be 'uncompromisingly involved in the action' only to then change drastically and 'face forwards, immobile, to address the audience - a gesture which lacks subtlety, relevance and becomes increasingly irritating.'
Opinion was divided on the performance of Giuseppe Filianoti as the lovesick Nemorino. On the one hand, almost everyone noticed how passionately Filianoti threw himself into the part: 'Filianoti is fearless in pursuit of self-deprecating laughs' writes The Times, while the Classical Source notes that '[Filianoti] puts his being into the role'.
Yet this physical approach was not unanimously praised: Opera Today describes him as 'hurling himself around the stage like a hyperactive child', while Edward Seckerson was one of the many to remark on the tenor's weaknesses as a singer, who is 'big-hearted but inelegant'. Opera Today detected a strain in his upper range, which felt 'strained and reedy', while Classical Source was troubled by his inability to project: 'there was breathlessness making it difficult for him to be heard'.
Diana Damrau as Adina received many compliments for her singing - while Opera Today praised her 'flawless fiery coloratura', The Times balanced their reservations about her stage-demeanour: 'Damrau needs a director who can tame her pouts' with admiration for the way 'she fields Donizetti's lyrical lines with sumptuous, graceful ease'. The Independent went so far as to point her out as 'the principal reason for catching this timely revival'; yet for the Financial Times her over-confident Adina was missing 'a degree of charm and sweetness in the voice, and a little more vulnerability'.
Praise also went to Simone Alaimo's Dulcamara, with his 'buffo' vocal delivery: 'He has an impressive, dark voice and a stage presence that lends itself easily to the banal plot' writes the Sunday Express, while the Financial Times writes that 'this Dulcamara knows exactly how to take an audience into his confidence.'
But there was one singer who managed to elicit unadulterated admiration from the press, and that is Eri Nakamura, an emerging young soprano who sang in the subsidiary role of Giannetta. For The Times her singing alone provided that 'pure, spontaneous tenderness' that the leads didn't quite provide.
Likewise, much praise was bestowed on conductor Bruno Campanella. Except for the Classical Source's complaint that 'the intensity of the sound overwhelmed the excellent Chorus', and a feeling in other quarters that he was on the slow side, everyone concurred with the Financial Times' remark on Campanella's ability to 'keeps the music buoyant and lyrical', while The Times points him out as a vehicle of emotional poignancy, filling in 'some of the missing chiaroscuro'.
All in all, this production is one that endears, pleases and has an excellent female lead in Diane Damrau. But for the emotion, immediacy and magic of an outstanding operatic production, it may not be your safest bet. L'elisir d'amore is at Covent Garden until 25 May.
Photos credits: Johan Persson
Review of the production
Interview with Diana Damrau, who plays Adina in this production
Interview with Anthony Michaels-Moore, who plays Belcore in this production
Review of Il trovatore at the Royal Opera
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