Wednesday 2 October 2019

Love and potions on Barry Island: Donizetti's The Elixir of Love at the King's Head Theatre

Donzetti: The Elixir of Love - Matthew Kellett - King's Head Theatre (Photo Bill Knight )
Donzetti: The Elixir of Love - Matthew Kellett
King's Head Theatre (Photo Bill Knight )
Donizetti The Elixir of Love; Alys Roberts, David Powton, Matthew Kellett, Themba Mvula, dir: Hannah Noone, David Eaton: King's Head Theatre
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 5 July 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
A co-production between the King's Head Theatre and Opera’r Ddaig transposes Donizetti's perennial favourite to the Welsh seaside

The Elixir of Love (l”elisir d’amore) is a melodramma giocoso by Gaetano Donizetti. The original Italian libretto was written by Felice Romani after Eugène Scribe’s libretto for Daniel Auber’s Le philtre. The opera premiered on 12 May 1832 in Milan.

King’s Head Opera and Opera’r Ddraig joined forces to premiere this new take on the perennial favourite on Monday 30 September 2019 in a new English adaptation at the King’s Head Theatre directed by Hannah Noone. Adina and her friend Gina were sung by Alys Roberts and Caroline Taylor. David Powton was our gauche hero Nicky (Nemorino) with Matthew Kellett as the itinerant Dulcamara. Themba Mvula was the rakish Brandon (Belcore). David Eaton was Music Director.

Donzetti: The Elixir of Love - David Powton, Alys Roberts - King's Head Theatre (Photo Bill Knight )
Donzetti: The Elixir of Love - David Powton, Alys Roberts
King's Head Theatre (Photo Bill Knight )
L’elisir was the most performed opera in Italy between 1838 and 1848 and has remained in the operatic repertoire since. Today it is one of the most frequently performed of all Donizetti's operas: it appears as number 13 on the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide in the five seasons between 2008 and 2013. Familiarity can sometimes breed contempt, and whilst it’s difficult to ruin this operatic mainstay, its performance history is littered with banal and mawkish iterations. So, as we all drown in the current relentless misery-mongering, there seems no better time to inject a bit of high energy into Donizetti’s elegant pastoral delight.

Chris Harris and David Eaton’s version easily transposed the quintessential bucolic tale of love to the Welsh seaside town of Barry Island. After all, Italian immigrants have been making the journey to Wales since the 18th century invigorating the local communities with ice-cream parlours and coffee shops. So, natch, the action opens in Adina’s Italian café.

Dispensing with the allusions to literature we were firmly rooted in the everyday, relying instead on vernacular, often ripe, that although witty, occasionally jarred. The exquisite romanza that is ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ took a poetic mauling. Its phrasing and introspective pathos need to be caressed. David Powton was suitably geeky as the pliant poet Nicky and he sang plaintively enough but unable to overcome words that entirely changed the tone of the piece its power was emasculated. Clouding the issue further was Themba Mvula’s strikingly charismatic - bit of a hotty - naval officer. His beautifully even toned baritone skewed the romance stakes further. Brandon had to show himself, at the very last, to be a twenty-four-carat shit which tipped us into verismo territory before I believed that Adina would cast a second glance at Nicky; the poor dab.

Donzetti: The Elixir of Love - Alys Roberts, Themba Mvula - King's Head Theatre (Photo Bill Knight )
Donzetti: The Elixir of Love - Alys Roberts, Themba Mvula
King's Head Theatre (Photo Bill Knight )
Where the modern text really did shine though was in the buffonata. Matthew Kellett, who has already shown King’s Head audiences his comic chops in a production of Pinafore, didn’t disappoint as Dulcamara with his effortless patter as Wales’ answer to Boycie. Alys Roberts charmed as a no-nonsense dwt Adina with a nice sense of style, deftly negotiating her fioriture. Caroline Taylor was tidy as the coquettish little gossip, Gina. Supported by the nimble playing of David Eaton this was an endearing if rather irreverent new look at this story of a lovesick loser and the audience lapped it up.

Reviewed by Anthony Evans

The Elixir of Love
King’s Head Opera and Opera’r Ddraig
King’s Head Theatre
Monday 30 September 2019
Adina : Alys Roberts
Nicky : David Powton
Dulcamara : Matthew Kellett
Brandon : Themba Mvula
Gina : Caroline Taylor
Director : Hannah Noone
Musical Director : David Eaton

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