OPERA - OTHER COMPOSERS - L'ELISIR D'AMORE
startling production of The Elixir
of Love premiered in Melbourne on April 21. An Italian opera from
1832 has turned up in western Victoria on the eve of the Great War. A
scrim evokes the art of the Broken Hill primitives. When the lights come
up, the set - animals included - is corrugated iron. The surtitles
abound with slang and the music is punctuated with noises from the
farmyard. Here is a vision for opera in the centenary of Federation, a
confidence in Australian creativity that our political and business
leaders are yet to attain.
One pinnacle of inventiveness are the sets
from Michael Scott-Mitchell who has found his way out of the tyranny of
squares through his design for folding hills. The twin peak is the
tonally coordinated costuming from Gabriela Tylesova. Her flowered straw
hats for the wedding party could launch a counter-revolution in haut
The brilliance behind director Simon
Phillips’s conception is realised in the look of the production more
than in the performances. Besides the lack of the ensemble work needed
to energise the story, the four principals have not adjusted their
dramatics to draw the most from the local setting. In avoiding the
caricatures of Dad and Dave, the cast are still to find the
characterisations that will make Act One appear as relaxed as it needs
to be in order to convince.
Thanks to Callas and Sutherland, Gaetano
Donizetti is again honoured as much for his tragedies – Lucia
and Anna Bolena - as for his
comedies. The revival of his serious works are a reminder that the
lighter pieces are studies in emotional contrast.
The appeal of The
Elixir of Love depends on the performance of the shy suitor,
Nemorino, a poor farm lad. Jorge Lopez-Yanez avoided coarseness and
buffoonery but was too knowingly playful on first acquaintance for his
naivete to find the nobility that his pure love commands. Lopez-Yanez
could get clues for portraying the typical Australian bloke of that era
from Albert Facey’s A Fortunate
Life. The piece works only if the transformation in Nemorino’s
personality is apparent. Then, he can carry us to the depths and heights
of his concluding aria, “A furtive tear”, where Lopez-Yanez was note
perfect but lacked the warm tones for which touches of vibrato are
welcome. His timbre is better suited for assertive parts, as he
displayed shortly afterwards in the few lines of a military flourish.
Amelia Farrugia looked the well-to-do and
worldly object of adoration, Adina, who sets the story going by
ridiculing the legend of Tristan’s securing the love of Isolde by
administering a love potion. For these early scenes, Farrugia could
re-read Miles Franklin’s My
Brilliant Career to get the balance of romance and bookish
arrogance. She became happier in her higher notes and carried tints of coloratura to a fine finish. As Giannetta, Ali MacGregor, displayed
a pertness which will win her attention.
The plainness of the first act duet between
Nemorino and the travelling quack, Dr Dulcamara, gave little indication
of the panache with which the buffo
Conal Coad would lift his Act Two realisation of the latter role to a
mastery of self-deception about the philtre’s efficacy and
clear-headedness about its capacity to make him rich.
The male chorus enter reading the Town
and Country Journal with WORLD AT WAR occupying all its front page.
The arrival of a troop of light horse on a recruiting drive carries
menace behind the swagger. Their leader, Belcore, is a sergeant in the
uniform of a captain. Jeffrey Black’s singing was similarly uncertain
of its rank, opening everywhere between bass and baritone before
allowing speed to cover the creaks from which a largeness of hamming
could not distract attention.
Conductor Julia Jones led the State Orchestra
of Victoria through a score which too often merely doubles the vocal
line, an encroachment on the singers’projection which was not always
avoided. The men in the OA Chorus were no more ragged in their demeanour
than in Sydney.
In place of the usual bottle of cheap red to
intoxicate the innocent, the hoaxer dispenses a bottle of Coca-Cola as
the cure-all. Director Simon Phillips has extended teenage trust in Coke
as a prophylactic to make it an aphrodisiac. Had he continued the
metamorphosis to re-brand it “Coca-Koala”, he would have asserted
independence from the several cultural imperialisms that are the soft
target of this evening of self-mocking fun and games.