The Elixir of Love at The Brunton in Musselburgh is the final performance in a tour of 17 smaller venues by Scottish Opera, and for anyone who might think that opera is not for them, then this is just the performance to make you think otherwise and let you see that opera has an irreverent and funny side too.
The Elixir of Love, or L'elisir d'amore if you want to give it its original Italian title, is a two act comic opera with music by Gaetano Donizetti and libretto by Felice Romani. This work premiered in 1832 and remains the most popular of Donizetti’s operas. The original music for “The Elixir of Love” was written for a full 53 piece orchestra, but this performance has been revised for five instruments –viola, violin, French horn, guitar and cello (an amazing feat in itself), and this reduced instrumentation makes it perfect for touring smaller venues and perfectly fits the lightness of the story line. This is a production that brings the sets, performers and musicians of Scottish Opera right into the audience. This is as close to being on stage with them as you are likely to get.
This is a fairly simple tale of a love-struck gardener Nemorino (Elgan Lyre Thomas) who is in love with the beautiful but as yet uninterested in him wealthy landowner Adina (Ellie Laugharne). In typical operatic story format, there is a rival for Adina’s affection, the peacock strutting sergeant Belcore (Toby Girling). Also in the story line and forever unable to keep any news to herself is Alina’s friend Giannetta (Hazel McBain). Is there an answer to Nemorino’s love problem…yes there is, and travelling purveyor of snake oils and all things equally fake - Dr Dulcamara (James Cleverton) has the solution , his magical potion – “The Elixir of Love”. With a small cast of other characters on stage, this is a tightly scripted performance reworked just enough to give it a local flavour wherever it is playing (much to the delight here of the audience).
Director Oliver Platt and designer Oliver Townsend have had some fun here setting this performance and taking inspiration from the very light comedy world of P.G. Wodehouse, and some very good period costumes and a simple but effective set provide the perfect setting for our performers. Vocally there are some wonderful performances here from everyone. Ellie Laugharne is perfect in her role of Adina and Elgan Llyr Thomas a perfect counter balance to her as the love-struck gardener, and his performance of the second act aria Una Furtiva Lagrima /"A furtive tear" is impressive. Equally impressive is James Cleverton with his long list of potions for sale and their miraculous properties. James entering from the back of the theatre and right into the audience while singing this totally broke down any barriers between audience and performers.
Vocal ability is not enough for this opera though, it also needs a light comedic touch, and everyone had that very difficult to get right skill here. This is an opera where everyone on stage gets to have some fun with their parts, and if anything ever will make you re-think the perceived seriousness of opera then the three “extra ladies” here will.
Simply a fun show that perfectly brings opera to smaller venues and makes everything as it always should be – opera for everyone.
Review by Tom King