Monday, 22 May 2017

DONIZETTI'S L'ELISIR D'AMORE / Singapore Lyric Opera / Review

Singapore Lyric Opera
Esplanade Theatre
Friday (19 May 2017)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 22 May 2017 with the title "Sparkling comic opera charms".

It was a bold move by the Singapore Lyric Opera (SLO) to mount a production outside of the usual canon of Verdi and Puccini operas. Although Gaetano Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore (The Elixir of Love) is not altogether unfamiliar (it was last produced here by New Opera Singapore in 2012), opening night of the Italian bel canto classic was unfortunately greeted by a house with many empty seats.

However, this new production directed by veteran Tom Hawkes was a light and sparkling affair true to the spirit of the comic opera. Its plot was simple. Village simpleton Nemorino (sung by Malaysian tenor Kee Loi Seng, reprising the same role in 2012) is enamoured of the confident and well-heeled Adina (Australian soprano Elena Xanthoudakis), and he thinks the elixir peddled by the smarmy quack Dulcamara (Singaporean baritone Martin Ng) will work wonders.

The contemporary setting at a seaside resort resembling Miami's South Beach was a nice touch with Justin Hill's atmospheric set, populated by the incessant vivacity of the SLO Chorus and Children's  Choir in Moe Kassim's pleasing costumes. It all made for a very satisfying background for the farce to unfold. 

A large part may be how a woman of Adina's stature comes to choose between suitors like the hangdog Nemorino and vainglorious military man Belcore (Korean baritone Song Kee Chang). But true love does these things to people, and Xanthoudakis' Adina was both a sympathatic and vulnerable portrayal.

The chemistry between her and the always-cowed Nemorino was somewhat uneasy even at the opera's happy end. Kee had his moments, not least in the hit aria Una furtiva lagrima, which rang bright and clear. He was also the centre of comedy when besieged by all the women after downing a second bottle of bordeaux. He thinks the elixir has worked, but the truth is: they all know of his unexpected coming to wealth and have begun texting with their handphones. 

Coming close to stealing the whole show was Ng's Dulcamara, whose mountebank manners and outrageous swagger (accompanied by a bevy of blonde nurses no less) made him one of the most pleasant “villains” around.

Also significant was a role of mezzo-soprano Jade Tan as the knowing Giannetta, a not so innocent high society girl, in a memorable SLO debut. Just to complete the cast, the matinee on Sunday would feature a younger main nucleus with Teo Kai Xin (as Adina), Jonathan Charles Tay (Nemorino) and Alvin Tan (Belcore).  

The SLO Orchestra conducted by Joshua Kangming Tan was generally excellent from the opening Prelude and all through the ensemble work, sensitive enough not to overwhelm the singers. Repetiteur Aloysius Foong ably provided piano accompaniment, while Yap Zi Qi's bassoon and Eilidh McRae's harp did the honours for Nemorino's hit aria. 

Despite decreased annual funding, the SLO still puts on a good show albeit once a year. Can one hope for next year's ambitious offering of Verdi's Aida to be no less of a hit?

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