BWW Reviews: L'ELISIR D'AMORE, King's Head Theatre, February 12 2013
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by Gary Naylor
Adina (Una Reynolds) is all strawberry blonde curls and coquettish flirting and the very apple of Nemorino's (Alex Vearey-Roberts) eye. But she's a 1950s Hollywood starlet and he's just the pool boy in her Beverley Hills mansion. She's more interested in soldier and aspirant Congressman Belcore (Marc Callahan), who adores Adina almost as much as he adores himself. Adina's friend, Gianetta (Caroline Kennedy), watches with an eagle eye, before phoning the gossip through to the Tallulah Bankheads of their day. Enter Dr Dulcamara (Alastair Sutherland), stylist to the stars, with his quick cures for excess wrinkles and hangover eyes, and an elixir that Nemorino hopes might just turn Adina's head, as it transforms him into a Sex God.
In this splendid adaptation of Donizetti's 181-year-old crowdpleaser, everyone has the most wonderful time - no divas dying here - as the plot twists and turns as often as Adina changes the objects of her desires. There's plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and plenty of audience interaction (there's barely room for three walls, so it's no wonder the fourth didn't last long). There's a hint of panto and a touch of La Ronde about it, but, as ever with OperaUpClose, there's no doubt that this is a proper opera with proper opera singers, singing proper opera so near that you could hand them an ice-cream. And that combination, ten operas into the company's work, is as thrilling as ever.
Director, Valentina Ceschi, keeps the pace up and wastes not a square centimetre of what little space she has and librettist, Thomas Eccleshare, crams plenty of jokes into the songs, wonderfully played by John Gibbons' piano, sax and violin combo (at exactly the right volume too). Ms Reynolds sings beautifully as Adina and Mr Callahan has a lot of fun bullying Mr Vearey-Roberts, who scowls a lot - before the elixir takes hold. Ms Kennedy seizes her solo with real gusto, but Mr Sutherland steals the money and the show as the dubious doc with the face creams and the fake creams - a character straight out of a Gilbert and Sullivan special.
I've written before that OperaUpClose scale down the spectacle but sacrifice none of opera's capacity to move an audience, entertain an audience and, for the many first-timers they attract, surprise an audience. L'Elisir D'Amore is funny, clever and unique - and if you haven't seen an opera, this is where to start.
L'Elisir D'Amore is at The King's Head Theatre until 13 April.
Photo by Christopher Tribble.