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.

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