Canadian Opera Company stirs up potent love potion
The Elixir of Love
★★★★ (out of 4) By Gaetano Donizetti, libretto by Felice Romani. Canadian Opera Company. Directed by James Robinson. Yves Abel, conductor. Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Oct. 11 show reviewed. To Nov. 4.
In the teen years of this millennium, the Canadian Opera Company has been showing its strength not just as a strong producer of staged works, but as a firstrate scout and developer of Canadian talent. All these qualities were on proud parade at the opening performance of The Elixir of Love at the Four Seasons Centre on Wednesday night.
It feels all the more satisfying to be able to wave the flag in a production that does everything right, providing a night of musically and esthetically satisfying entertainment.
The Elixir of Love, né L’Elisir d’amore at a small theatre in Milan in 1832, is a chestnut of the bel canto era, composed by one of its masters, Gaetano Donizetti. It is a two-act piece of puff pastry, a romantic comedy in which a poor and hapless young man eventually wins the hand of a small town’s most popular young woman.
The love potion of the title unlocks the secret desires of all the main characters. It also serves as a vivid reminder that the placebo effect is nothing new.
The younger characters are sung by an exceptional, youthful Canadian cast that had a ball tossing about Donizetti’s jaunty solo and ensemble arias. And they sounded fabulous doing it.
Simone Osborne has emerged as a firstrate coloratura soprano. She gave us a sweetly engaging leading lady in Adina. Tenor Andrew Haji was note-perfect as Adina’s lovesick stalker, Nemorino. Baritone Gordon Bintner was pomposity and cockiness incarnate as Belcore, Nemorino’s rival for Adina’s affections.
British Columbia native Lauren Eberwein, who joined the COC’s apprentice Ensemble Studio just last year, displayed a seductively rich mezzo soprano voice in her lone solo turn in Act 2, as Giannetta. Dr. Dulcamara, the snake-oil salesman behind the magic elixir, is the opera’s broadly comic character. He was sung in suitably wacky style by British baritone Andrew Shore.
Toronto-born conductor Yves Abel, who enjoys a great career outside this country, makes a way-overdue mainstage local debut with this opera. On Wednesday night, he demonstrated total command of Donizetti’s richly textured score, working in subtle shading of phrase and tone wherever possible. He was also masterful at managing the elastic musical relationship between orchestra and singers in this sort of work.
The COC Orchestra itself was in magnificent form. The COC Chorus, which is on stage for much of this opera, was perfectly prepared by Sandra Horst.
This new-for-Toronto production is directed by American James Robinson, artistic director of the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Robinson, designer Allen Moyer and costumer Amanda Seymour have effectively updated the setting from rural early 19th-century Italy to smalltown Ontario circa1914. It was a bit odd at first seeing various Upper Canadian clues onstage while all of the singing was in Italian, but the quality of this production quickly overcame this quibble. Everything here is straightforward and traditional, allowing the characters and voices to work their magic on stage.
In fact, this production dispenses its own love potion for the audience, as well.
Andrew Haji stars as Nemorino in the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of The Elixir of Love.