Valentina Ceschi directs a handsome young cast in her delightful, new English production for OperaUpClose. It is crammed full of clever comic detail and fizzes with vitality. Donizetti's nineteenth-century rural Italy has been imaginatively spun forward to 1950s Hollywood, where Nemorino (a rather stiff and vocally hesitant Alex Veary-Roberts) is a simple pool-boy, soon to make his fortune as a screenwriter. He mopes around, hopelessly besotted with Adina, a flirtatious fun-loving starlet (wonderfully played by soprano Una Reynolds, her voice trilling powerfully as she negotiates the coloratura demands of this bel canto romcom). Her head, however, is momentarily turned by military man Belcore (Marc Callaghan, a fine baritone and comic actor). And so, the stage is set for the shyster Dulcamara and his cure-all potions to take advantage of these vain denizens of Tinseltown. In this gift of a role, Alistair Sutherland uses his expressive face to the full to give an hilarious turn and solid vocal performance. And not forgetting Caroline Kennedy, who gives strong comic support as Adina's friend.
The orchestral score has been sympathetically interpreted by pianist John Gibbons, who is joined onstage by a viola (Frances Higgs) and saxophone (Rachael Moorhead) – the latter adding a sassy American feel to the music.
Ceschi makes excellent use of the small space, as does set designer Kate Lane – for instance, a yellow lilo pinned to a blue wall is leaned against by those apparently lounging in the pool; even the musicians have small cameos. There are two casts in this run – hopefully the second will prove as engaging, with a Nemorino who finds the top Cs avoided here. Overall this is splendid small-scale production whose only real disappointment is how few people will get to see it – a real treat. Book it now. Jonathan Lennie
(L'elisir d'amore runs at the King's Head Theatre, Islington, until Mar 16 2013.)