With London in a heatwave, it hardly takes a great leap of the imagination to be transported to the sweltering Italian countryside that is the setting of Donizetti’s bel canto masterpiece L’ Elisir d’amore, but Pia Furtado’s sparkling Holland Park Opera production doesn’t need the thermometer’s aid to draw the audience into the opera’s world.
Her staging brims with attention-grabbing details. She opens the action in the greenhouse of a modern-day sunflower farm, with the blown-up image of blonde, beautiful young owner Adina decorating the sides of a pair of lorries. When the chorus arrive they’re kitted out in matching blue overalls, but before their first appearance Furtado, in a striking directorial touch, has already introduced us during the overture to charlatan Dulcamara, re-imagined here as an opportunistic drifter who takes advantage of the farm’s resources to concoct the potions that are the wellspring of the plot.
Performed by Geoffrey Dolton, valiantly stepping into the role with two weeks’ notice because of illness, this Dulcamara is a shifty trickster who deploys quick-witted guile to achieve his ends, rather than the character’s usual swagger. And even though Dolton isn’t a perfect fit vocally for the role, he pulls off Furtado’s conceit admirably. More comfortably matched with his part as Nemorino, the lovesick country bumpkin who falls for Dulcamara’s wiles, Aldo Di Toro supplies comedy, pathos and a bright tenor voice, while baritone George von Bergen provides the requisite bluster for self-regarding sergeant Belcore, Nemorino’s love rival. But it’s Sarah Tynan’s ravishing Adina, the object of their affections, who delivers the evening’s standout performance: fickle, flighty but essentially sweet-natured at heart. In the pit, conductor Steven Higgins and the City of London Sinfonia got off to a sluggish start but found their touch as the evening warmed up.