BWW Review: COC's ELIXIR OF LOVE is Charming to the Core
Small town charm is the fuel for the Canadian Opera Company's ELIXIR OF LOVE. Set in "any town" Ontario, Donizetti's beloved characters appear even more appealing and recognizable in James Robinson's quaint production. As part of the bel canto operatic repertoire, "beautiful singing" is an exceptionally fitting description for this production, masterfully sung by a cast of emerging Canadian artists.
One of the most performed operas of all time, Donizetti's ELIXIR OF LOVE is a beautiful love story, with a tinge of comedy. The poor, naive Nemorino (Andrew Haji) pines for the love of the wealthy, brainy Adina (Simone Osborne). Adina, very much aware of Nemorino's attraction, explains that she isn't ready to settle down with one man. In an attempt to win her heart, Nemorino purchases an "Elixir of Love" from a travelling medicine man, Dr. Dulcamara (Andrew Shore). When a strapping, cocky army recruitment sergeant, Belcore (Gordon Bintner) sets his eyes on Adina, it looks like it might be too late for Nemorino - even with the help from his "powerful" elixir.
Robinson's production, dreamy and pastel-centric, like a George Seurat painting, welcomes you to a perfect, picturesque rural town. Smiling faces, ice cream and gatherings with neighbours at the gazebo make it all very - cute. The ideal setting for an adorable, cheeky love story. I wish every modernized production worked this well. By setting the town in Ontario, in the not-so-distant past, we never feel removed from the action on stage. The chorus, led by the incomparable Sandra Horst, take on well-defined personalities that add warmth to the already cozy piece. Suddenly, the love is more lovely and the comedy, that much funnier.
Singing one of opera's most famous tenor arias, there is a lot of anticipation thrust on the singer taking on the role of Nemorino. Luckily, Andrew Haji's impressive voice is just the right fit for the swooning lover. Haji forces us to feel awfully sympathetic for his Nemorino and there is not a moment we aren't rooting for him. Although it took some time for him to really open up vocally, his "Una furtiva lagrima" was the highlight of the evening. You could hear a pin drop, the crowd was listening so attentively. Haji's singing checks all of the boxes - a sincere commitment to emotional communication, stable and beautifully navigated coloratura, and resonant dynamic dexterity. I have a feeling he will be singing this role for a long time to come.
Playing Adina, Simone Osborne is a gem of a performer. Her voice, a radiant, vibrant timbre, swells with the action of the piece. Following a very sweet and calculated "Prendi, per me sei libero", Osborne brilliantly gives control over to emotion for the end of the second act. In this role, Osborne proves that she is a wonderfully well-rounded performer - her portrayal is never stiff, as she bounces around the stage with youthful energy. From overture to bows, Osborne carries the audience in the palm of her hand.
The third Canadian in the bunch, baritone Gordon Bintner has an incredible gift for theatrical singing. Bintner is hilarious as the brute Gaston-like Belcore. His "Come Paride vezzoso" displays his rich, warm sound, while giving him a chance to show-off his stupendous skills at comedic acting. As Dr. Dulcamara, Andrew Shore is well versed in the role - he made his Met Opera debut in the same role in 2006. A voice well-suited to character basso buffo roles, Shore maneuvered through the score comfortably, especially funny in Dulcamara's comedic side commentary.
The surprise of the evening was Lauren Eberwein's too-brief portrayal of Adina's friend, Giannetta. Eberwein's robust, dramatic voice turned heads in the second act's "Saria Possibile".
ELIXIR OF LOVE is one of the more "perfect" operas. In terms of structure, character development and plot - the components work together extremely well. As three COC Ensemble Studio graduates prove, it is also a perfect piece to showcase the voices of young singers. Robinson's modernization doesn't hinder the sincere love at the core of the piece, in fact, his vision serves only to enhance its charm.
Speaking of perfect - if you've never been to the opera, this would be the perfect place to start.
ELIXIR OF LOVE is presented by the Canadian Opera Company and runs through November 4th, 2017 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
Upcoming performances Oct 15, 17, 21, 27, 29 | Nov 2, 4
For more information and to buy tickets, visit http://www.coc.ca/PerformancesAndTickets/1718Season/ElixirofLove.aspx
(main photo credit: Andrew Haji as Nemorino and Simone Osborne as Adina, photo: Michael Cooper)