Magic Elixir

It’s my second consecutive opera involving a romantic beverage at the Four Seasons Centre with the Canadian Opera Company, and no I don’t mean what I was drinking.

I can’t help comparing and contrasting Arabella, yesterday’s opera with The Elixir of Love, today’s matinee.

  • In yesterday’s the women are powerless; today, in contrast, two men attempt to please a woman who is the powerful one
  • Yesterday’s was German, today’s was Italian
  • Yesterday it was water at the centre while today it was a magic elixir (you’ll have to see the opera to find out the actual ingredients of the drink)
  • Both operas feature Canadians; although yesterday’s biggest star was a European, today’s best performances were all by Canadians

As I stood at the urinal after the opera, I couldn’t help overhearing the shouted conference on either side of me, comparing the two.  “Today’s opera was better”, they said, and his wife was cited as the ultimate authority for what was wrong yesterday.

Who was I to argue? (and I felt I was intruding)

Perhaps it’s a triumph of promotion over resistance, a production that deconstructs opera’s forbidding surface into something gently lovable.  We’re watching Donizetti’s Elisir d’Amore re-framed as though it were Meet me in St Louis or Music-Man, a very approachable stage picture that puts us at our ease immediately.   There we are supposedly in what the program note calls “Anytown USA circa 1914”, on the eve of WW One.  It doesn’t matter whether it felt Canadian (with the inclusion of our flag) or American (mostly red white and blue banners). What it did NOT resemble was a scary opera set, especially when you add in the chorus and Nemorino’s ice cream truck.

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Andrew Haji as Nemorino in the COC’s Elixir of Love, 2017 (photo: Michael Cooper)

And in passing I wonder if we’ve ever had a season like this from the COC. The opera composer giving us two operas isn’t Puccini or Verdi or even Wagner.  It’s Donizetti of all people (Anna Bolena still to come, a bel canto opera of a completely different flavour).

And we were in the presence of beautiful music, magnificent singing, where the plot was really a pretense for arias and ensembles, a story that’s pleasant but not earth-shaking, while we get lost in some pretty music.   As I have been discussing with students in my opera class, the distinction between musicals and operas isn’t always a big one.

Who’s afraid of opera?  No one in this audience, especially once we had a chance to sink our teeth into the performances by a capable and authentic sounding bel canto cast led by Andrew Haji, Simone Osborne and Gordon Bintner.  All three have a genuine gift for comedy, aided and abetted by this charming opera.

Haji plays dumb. I mean that although he’s a very intelligent fellow,  he’s very believable in playing up Nemorino’s gullibility, his naive belief in the power of a magic potion.  The voice soars without forcing, an authentic bel canto approach that is Italianate and oh so musical.  Osborne is Adina, a cruel tease for much of the opera who melts near the end, even though her top notes were as radiant when she was heartless as when she becomes sympathetic to Nemorino at the end.

Bintner as Belcore is the classic miles gloriosus, that braggart soldier we’ve seen since ancient times in everything from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, to Don Giovanni, and even though he doesn’t get the girl in the show he’ll be just fine marching off to further conquests.  The voice is powerful and seems effortless.

The cast was rounded out by Andrew Shore as Dr Dulcamara –who sells the elixir that may or may not have changed Nemorino’s life—and Lauren Eberwein as Adina’s friend Giannetta.  Conductor Yves Abel led a very tight performance by orchestra & chorus.

The Elixir of Love continues at the Four Seasons Centre until November 4th.

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