This update, which drags Donizetti into a college classroom, is a real tour de force
Anthony Flaum as Nemorino and Anna Patalong as Adina
Theatre at The Mill,
Newtownabbey, Co Antrim
Donizetti’s 1832 L’Elisir d’amore is a heady mix of humour, tenderness and increasing self-awareness, all well captured in this new production by director Oliver Mears for NI Opera and Opera Theatre Company. The uncredited English translation is easily heard, and Dr Dulcamara’s occasional stage Oirishness is funny enough to be quite forgivable.
Newtownabbey’s intimate Theatre at The Mill has a small orchestra pit, but it’s a shock to find Donizetti’s well-crafted orchestral writing played by an Ulster Orchestra much reduced in size to single strings, with only half of Donizetti’s woodwind and brass. It’s amazing, however, to find how quickly the ears accept the change; David Brophy’s conducting maintains a good balance and tight ensemble between stage and pit.
There is another moment of shock horror when the curtain rises on a college classroom with a motley collection of reasonably contemporary teenagers. The update works, and offers uneasy parallels about gun play and relationships.
The small chorus, and soprano Sarah Reddin, who sparkles as the coquettish Giannetta, are excellent, both in dynamic range and characterisation, whether as students, soldiers, fancy-dressed party-goers or the girls’ netball team. All credit to the costume designer, Ilona Karas.
Soprano Anna Patalong, as Adina the college teacher, brings an easy dexterity, with a richness of tone that is always a delight.
Her suitor and pupil – tenor Anthony Flaum, as Nemorino – hasn’t quite settled vocally; the top of his voice lacks clarity of line, but his acting, with gauche references to the likes of Norman Wisdom, is always assured.
Baritone James McOran-Campbell as the lusty Sgt Belcore is suitably self-assured and vocally commanding.
However, it is bass John Molloy as the hugely enjoyable quack doctor who almost steals the show. Alongside his well-timed comic irony, his different accents and his mixing of magic coloured potions, there are hints of John Cleese in his exaggerated movements. A real tour de force.
At the Mac, Belfast tonight, then tours to Omagh, Enniskillen and Armagh