Eleanor Wood is reviewing Opera Australia’s Sydney Winter season with guidance from professional critics, Opera Australia’s own music staff and writing professionals.
Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love gets an outback twist in this charming comedy
With more akubras and corrugated iron sheep than you could poke a stick at, Simon Phillips’ 2001 production of The Elixir of Love makes a welcome return.
Set in an Australian outback town in the early 1900s, the production team has created a world brimming with nostalgia and nationalism. The arrival of soldiers signifies the beginning of a nameless war and the imminent end of such idealism.
Designer Michael Scott-Mitchell has created a spectacular corrugated iron landscape of sun-drenched hues, complete with corrugated iron animals that bob and whinny on cue. This is well complimented by Nick Schlieper’s lighting design of warm, sunlit tones and Gabriela Tylesova’s cleverly paint-splattered costumes.
Phillips’ direction extracts every inch of comedic gold from the cast. They dance skilfully through a sea of corrugated iron sheep and create a myriad of slapstick gags that keep the pace rolling along. Importantly, performances are never overplayed for the sake of comedy and the show retains its emotional core throughout. There is also a witty self-awareness to the production, such as when Nemorino must step forward to read a surtitle to make sense of an unintelligible line.
One of the great strengths of this production is the contrast of rustic Australian charm with Donizetti’s frothy lyricism. The surtitles have been tweaked to include Australian slang, with gems like “Yumbo Scrumbo!” and “She’s a real corker!”
Speaking of corkers, Rachelle Durkin is captivating as Adina. With a sumptuous tone and graceful physicality, she proves herself to be a compelling performer and a skilled comic actress in this role.
Aldo di Toro is a charming bundle of nerves and sincerity as the lovesick labourer, Nemorino. His light Italian tenor is perfectly suited to this repertoire and his ‘Una Furtiva Lagrima’ was beautifully restrained.
Up-and-coming baritone Samuel Dundas plays Belcore with all the pomp and swagger necessary for the stuck-up military officer. His warm, rich baritone and excellent physical comedy skills make him a stand-out in this production.
Legendary bass Conal Coad is in fine form as the travelling “doctor” Dulcamara. He handles the rapid-fire text and physical stunt work with ease as he peddles his magic potions. In this production, the doctor’s magic drop is none other than Coca Cola, serving as a gentle reminder of the onset of American capitalism.
Occasionally some ensemble singing amongst the principal cast lacks unity, but this is minor. Katherine Wiles sings with clarity as the bright and bubbly Giannetta and the Opera Australia Chorus provides strong support. The scene in which the women are enclosed in a chicken coop as they scheme and gossip is particularly clever.
Maestro Guillaume Tourniaire leads the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra with energy in an exuberant rendition of Donizetti’s much-loved score.
Bursting with so much patriotic pride it could no doubt earn a place on Team Australia, Opera Australia’s latest offering of this Donizetti classic exudes warmth and wit. Get along if you can!
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