The Elixir of Love

Conal Coad as Dulcamara and Aldo Di Toro as Nemorino. Photo by Lisa Tomasetti
Conal Coad as Dulcamara and Aldo Di Toro as Nemorino. Photo by Lisa Tomasetti

This comic opera gem by Donizetti is being performed in a rollicking revival production by Opera Australia. Simon Phillips’ direction of the opera buffa is set in rural Australia in 1915, complete with typical soldiers and civilians. It manages to maintain all tensions, humour and spontaneity of the original Italian scenes.

Whilst period colloquialisms enliven the surtitles, as well as horses, sheep, cows and chickens being omnipresent, Donizetti’s music and characters are never compromised. The colourful set and props reflect Australia’s traditional and modern relationship to corrugated iron. High-quality traditional singing and acting emerge from a cartoon-like twentieth century packaging.

This cast is capable of offering strong personas in line with classic opera buffa characters. Successful solo patter singing and energetic work in groups from duet through to full ensemble help the action gallop along. From an initial side-saddle entry Rachelle Durkin’s Adina continues to be a suitably bold sheila who also demonstrates what bel canto singing is all about. She is radiating in the fabulous freshness of Gabriela Tylesova’s costume design.

Milky way-struck lover Nemorino as portrayed by Aldo Di Toro interacts brilliantly with all cast and the modern set. Musically his Nemorino is fresh, sensitive and transports us above all production elements and well-crafted humour to deliver quality Donizetti moments. He also swigs from this opera’s namesake, this year a modern iconic ‘elixir’ which appears in various guises of hilarious product placement. ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ does not disappoint. Albeit an outdoor reflection around the chook pen it is memorable and mesmerising.

Conal Coad shines with buffa brilliance. His portrayal of itinerant salesman Dulcamara is athletic and entertaining, a firecracker of a con man with a cart full of remedies. Both his tabletop pre-wedding dance and bawdy singing with Adina in Act Two as well as his early entreaties for an audience of customers ‘Udite, Udite, o rustici’ on the roof of his bright van are definite highlights.

Another well-cast buffa performer is Katherine Wiles as village girl Gianetta. In the chicken coop during Act Two, Wiles effectively whips the female ensemble into a frenzy of excitement over the area’s newest eligible bachelor. The group spreads across the stage proclaiming their individual suitability with fresh farm girl movement and vocal energies.

This melodrama is well worth jumping into the saddle to enjoy. It would be a particularly fun and accessible as a first experience of opera but seasoned opera goers will find this production a clever transformation. The situations between a shearer, farmer’s daughter, farm women, soldiers, chicken handlers or milkmaids move along at a cracking pace with never a dull moment on the stage.

The swag loads of talent and colour in this production deserve repeats of the huge ovation I witnessed. All visual treats, comedy and vocal interpretations so closely linked to the storytelling in this version of Donizetti’s popular work are well worth riding into town for and enjoying the shindig.

THE ELIXIR OF LOVE plays at the Dame Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House until August 31.