Tuesday 13 October 2015

Donizetti - L'Elisir d'amore (La Monnaie, 2015 - Webcast)

Gaetano Donizetti - L'Elisir d'amore

La Monnaie-De Munt, 2015

Thomas Rösner, Damiano Michieletto, Olga Peretyatko, Dmitry Korchak, Aris Argiris, Simón Orfila, Maria Savastano

La Monnaie Streaming - September 2015

La Monnaie's 'Extra Muros' 2015-2016 season, using a number of temporary venues across Brussels while the Théâtre Royal is undergoing renovation, seems like an ideal opportunity to rethink and experiment with approaches to staging works. Well, it would be if it were any other opera company, but La Monnaie's productions are always bold and innovative even when they are at home. So it's business as usual then for their new production of Donizetti's L'Elisir d'amore.

For Damiano Michieletto's production, the set designer Paolo Fantin has constructed a wonderful beach set. And why not? According to the director, all the justification/inspiration needed for this change of location is there in the first lines of the libretto sung by the chorus - ’How good it is to rest a while under a tree when the sun is hot and sultry.’ The beach is as good a place as any, and perhaps actually more appropriate than harvesting in a field, not only as a place to look for and admire potential partners in our body-beautiful conscious times, but as a superficial way of establishing those limits and expectations of whether someone is in your league or not.

I like also that in terms of the singing that Dmitry Korchak's Nemorino is quite evidently marked out as not being in the same league as soprano Olga Peretyatko, who is capable of even more challenging bel canto roles than Adina. Korchak is good, he has an ideal boyish charm for the role, a lovely voice that is well-versed in the bel canto style, and he takes the high-Cs (high seas?) of the role well, but he clearly doesn't have the full body (puns galore in this review) of the more suitable (and superficial) Belcore. And speaking of bodies, credit to Michielotto for having Peretyatko sing an opera in a swimsuit, although I'm afraid that the lovely Russian soprano is unfortunately out of my league too.

The set design (the production shared between Brussels, Valencia and Madrid) for the production is fantastic, bright and colourful, ideal for the superficial tone and content of the work. It doesn't miss a trick as far as beach accessories, activities and attitudes go, and often in very clever and fun ways. Nemorino, for example, admires Adina's intelligence and learning as she reads nothing more than a gossip magazine while lying on a beach towel. The only Tristan and Isolde that she's likely to come across there are the exotically named offspring of celebrities whose lifestyles she is reading about.

Aris Argiris' broad-chested Belcore, for his part, wanders on like he is ready to kick sand in the face of the weedy Nemorino. He's not a soldier here evidently, but more like the captain or crew member of a cruise liner. Dulcamara's magical elixir meanwhile, when he rolls up to join the beach party, is of course a new energy drink. His promotions van comes with oversized cans and female assistants wearing fitness gear who hand out samples to the gullible Nemorino and the easily impressed beach bums. Only the orchestra at the back of the stage - unavoidably I presume on account of the venue not having an orchestra pit - don't really fit the setting, but they at least make an effort to dress casual and remain in the background.

The beach ideas, everything from inflatable sharks to beach massages, are all entertaining if occasionally stretching to the absurd such as the inflatable wedding cake for Adina and Belcore that leads to a foam-bath love-in for the newly rich Nemorino by the end. It's fun if not spectacularly funny, but then L'Elisir leans more to the romantic of the romantic-comedy opera buffa anyway. A big, bold, colourful set with a sense of humour about it and some good singing is usually enough. With Simón Orfila rounding out a good cast, Thomas Rösner conducting a lively musical account of the work and Martino Faggiani working his usual magic with the chorus, that proves to be the case here.

Links: La Monnaie-De Munt, RTBF