After dwelling in the depths of two Ring Cycles in October/November, it was nice to emerge blinking into the warm sunshine of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. I’d forgotten how much I like it, even if this wasn’t an ideal performance.
I do like Laurent Pelly’s production, a few niggles aside: the wide open spaces don’t help singers’ projection, the business with scooters, trucks, etc. is fun but a little distracting in parts, and quite a lot happens on extremes of the stage. But, all in all, it’s got some verve and liveliness to it and tells the story cleanly. It’s atmospherically lit and, after Keith Warner’s clumsy Ring, it was nice to be able just to sit back and let the drama wash past, without constantly being reminded of the technical workings of the stage.
Verve and liveliness were not words to attach to Bruno Campanella’s conducting, which substituted weight and stateliness instead. Whilst this wouldn’t have been hugely problematic in itself, it seemed to bring with it a lack of precision – and of energy – in the overall performance. The orchestra played well, but co-ordination in ensembles, including between pit and stage, was hit-and-miss. At the start of Act 2, Campanella seemed to try and defer the applause for himself, deflecting it to the orchestra, and said a few words to the audience which I couldn’t hear, so maybe he knew he was having an off night. At any rate, Act 2 was a bit more on form than Act 1.
Aleksandra Kurzak brought her perky, peppy style to Adina, very convincingly the village flirt and particularly piqued at no longer being centre of attention. If her voice lacked a bit of the ease that characterised her earlier outings of bel canto tricksy minxes, it was still beautiful, agile and deployed skilfully to match the character. As her Belcore, we were asked for ‘understanding’ in respect of Fabio Capitanucci, the Royal Opera having marched him to a chemist’s for flu tablets before the performance, but it didn’t seem necessary: he delivered a swaggering army officer with a neat balance of attractive and dangerous, and an even, equally attractive baritone. Ambrogio Maestri brought the patter of Dr Dulcamara into vivid life, whipping the on-stage crowd up to their choreographed business, which the chorus seemed to relish.
The Nemorino of Roberto Alagna was an odd confection. He started out sounding uneven and dry-toned, with approximate high notes. He seemed dramatically stilted at the side of Kurzak’s fully immersed character. As things progressed, though, he seemed to ease into the performance, engaging with the drama more fluidly and finding an easier voice. The boos that mingled with cheers for his Una furtiva lagrima point to an unconventional approach to bel canto. In Alagna’s hands, the aria did sound a bit as though it came from the pen of Cilea or Giordani, rather than Donizetti, but it worked on its terms, and there’s something to be said for shaking things up occasionally… Whilst, given the choice, I would probably plump for a Colin Lee or JDF, nonetheless Alagna won me over by the end.
So Donizetti’s sunshine won through, and completely knackered as I was on a Friday evening, it provided a much needed injection of smiling optimism!
What is it with some of the audience at the ROH these days? The twinkling forest of light bulbs that descend to accompany Una furtiva lagrima was as nought compared to the speckling of Blackberries and iPhones that remained in use across the Stalls well into the first act. Peering through binoculars, one woman had the iPhone on her lap with the voice recording function on, so was evidently trying to record it. Another, in row B of the Stalls had to be stopped by his partner from holding up his iPhone to video the performance. Are these people utterly incapable of thinking about the contribution their behaviour makes to a communal experience? And I won’t repeat my views on the person in the Amphi who chose two minutes into Adina, credimi as the moment to try to pop a cough sweet from its plastic-and-foil blister pack – clearly someone nearby intervened. Bring on the opera vigilantism…