It was hard to know where to look during Opera Australia’s production of The Elixir of Love at Art Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre.
I didn’t want to take my eyes off the performers and their many humorous actions. But then there were the sets that were truly stunning and the surtitles (captions of the songs being sung) many of which featured Australian vernacular translations which brought great laughter from the audience.
This production of Elixir of Love, from well-known Australian director Simon Phillips,has been playing to critical and audience acclaim since it made its debut in 2001. It’s easy to see why.
Phillips has moved the Donizetti opera from its original setting of a Basque country village of the late 18th century to an Australian country town in 1915. In keeping with that theme the sets are made from corrugated iron. The sky, hills, a chicken coop, a car and farm animals (which include nodding, shearable sheep, mooing cows and horses which are ridden by cast members) are all made of the material.
Elixir of Love tells of Nemorino, a poor shearer, who is in love with Adina, the daughter of a wealthy tenant farmer. Adina won’t give him the time of day but after hearing the legend of Tristan and Isolde, Nemorino wonders if a love potion might change her mind.
Cue the arrival in town of Dulcamara, travelling larrikin and purveyor of a bottled cure that might just do the trick. But time is running out for the potion to work as Adina has agreed to marry the pompous Sergeant Belcore.
The production stars Rachelle Durkin as Adina, Aldo Di Toro as Nemorino, Christopher Hillier as Belcore, Conal Coad as Dulcamara and Eva Kong as Gianetta.
All, together with the chorus of Opera Australia, give wonderful performances in terms of both their singing and acting. There are plenty of laughs thanks to their expressive body language and off stage sound effects.
The costumes are another highlight of the production, especially the dresses worn by Durkin and Kong.
Like The Marriage of Figaro, Opera Australia’s other offering in Melbourne during November, Elixir of Love is ideal for opera novices as the story is easy to understand. As Opera Australia also points out no one dies in either of the operas and both end happily ever after!
The two hour production is very bright and there’s always something happening. Judging by the reaction on opening night the performances of the leads and Orchestra Victoria ensure seasoned opera goers will be equally satisfied.
Jenny Burns attended the opening night of The Elixir of Love as a guest of Opera Australia.
Photographs: Jeff Busby