Magazine article The Spectator

Lost Innocence

Magazine article The Spectator

Lost Innocence

Article excerpt


The Elixir of Love

(Opera North)

Verdi's Requiem


L'Elisir d'Amore is the most benign of operatic comedies, and Opera North, in its excellent new production - I delayed visiting it until I could get to Leeds by train -- is wholly faithful to its spirit, in this English version made by the conductor, David Parry. He is, of course, our leading specialist in bel canto opera, a strange fate for a pupil of Celibidache. All his efforts, in scintillation and tenderness, might have been undermined by the director, something one has come to expect in so harmless a work as this.

But Daniel Slater is just as affectionately disposed towards the piece as Parry, and the only novel feature is the updating to the 1950s, a clever touch since it gives us just the feelings of nostalgia to see something from that period of lost innocence that the original audience of 1832 must have had about a preindustrial land of peasants and artless rural merrymaking.

We are in an Italy of early postwar tourism, with self-consciously smart holiday-makers wearing sunglasses and drinking preprandial cocktails, on the terrace of the Hotel Adina. Wide boys from the Italian navy enter, one of them the swaggering Belcore, who is both appealing and absurd. He looks like a traditionally produced Pinkerton, and clearly fancies himself as much as that notorious naval cad does. It is one of the great merits of this production that it refuses, on the whole, to go for broad humour, and presents the characters, at least partly, in the terms that they see themselves.

There are good reasons for Adina to choose the glamorous preening Belcore over the retiring, if not retarded, Nemorino. That lovable anti-hero needs to be presented with more involuntary charm than Paul Nilon brings to his portrayal. This admirable singer and artist seems to specialise in being nerdish, but on this occasion he takes it so far that one finds it hard to credit that Adina would ever fall for him. Nilon's voice, which is never in itself appealing, is used more as a whine than a supplication, and 'Una furtiva lagrima', though phrased elegantly and sung with heartfelt simplicity, altogether lacks the rapt beauty which it needs to make Nemorino, at this very late stage of the opera, an irresistible prospect. For Act I he is so pathetic that he elicits more contempt than pity.

Mary Hegarty's Adina is at the opposite pole, as pert and as sharp-voiced as a girl who finally melts can be. One imagines her settling down rather well with Richard Whitehouse's complacent Belcore, each of them lost in her and his own attractiveness. …

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