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A Jaunty Success

The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
10/11/2017 -  & October 15, 17, 21, 27, 29, November 2, 4, 2017
Gaetano Donizetti: L’elisir d’amore
Andrew Haji (Nemorino), Simone Osbourne (Adina), Gordon Bintner (Sergeant Belcore), Andrew Shore (Dr. Dulcamara), Lauren Eberwein (Giannetta)
The Canadian Opera Company Chorus, Sandra Horst (chorus master), The Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Yves Abel (conductor)
James Robinson (director), Allen Moyer (set designer), Martin Pakledimaz (original costume designer), Amanda Seymour (revival costume designer), Paul Palazzo (lighting designer)

A. Haji & S. Osborne (© Michael Cooper)

L’elisir d’amore was the big hit opera of 1832 and was just one of four operas that Donizetti premiered that year (an averagely busy one for him). It seemed to be fading from the repertory later that century but was given a new lease on life by eminent performers like Enrico Caruso and Arturo Toscanini. This COC production gives joyous evidence as to why the 185-year-old work still gives delight.

The production has been staged in three US cities, where it was set in a small American town in 1914. The design has been effectively Canadianized; thus we are in small town Ontario at the fall fair in 1914, which explains Sergeant Belcore’s recruiting activities.

Amusing updating includes Nemorino driving an ice cream truck and Dr. Dulcamara arriving on a well-traveled motorcycle. Nemorino also has to endure some military basic training.

Three of the four main roles are taken by recent “graduates” of the company’s Ensemble Studio. The one import is Andrew Shore who, despite vocal worn patches, portrays Dr. Dulcamara with brio and charm, with each patter syllable in place.

Andrew Haji’s voice is preternaturally suited the role of Nemorino, although I wish he could elevate his wonderful natural resource (and likeable personality) from the category of “fine tenor” to “exciting tenor”. It should be in reach without vocal damage. One example: the climactic note of his Act I duet with Adina simply did not resonate. His Una furtiva lagrima was effectively understated, though, and was aroused a fine ovation.

Simone Osborne has the requisite charm and voice for Adina (and the other “ina” roles). We see her grow from the complacent, teasing girl in the opening scenes to a desperate young woman who realizes she has been too successful in her hard-to-get gambit with Nemorino who has become such a sudden and puzzling babe magnet. The whole performance really comes into its own in the Act II duet with her and Dr. Dulcamara.

Gordon Bintner struts convincingly as the sergeant and his attractive voice ably completes the quartet of lead roles. In addition, current Ensemble Studio member Lauren Eberwein makes a fine impression in the comprimario role of Giannetta.

While the plot to modern audiences may seem trite, having been usurped in countless operettas and musical comedies over the decades, Donizetti’s endlessly playful musical patterns tumble jauntily over one another, truly a musical cornucopia. Conductor Yves Abel achieves a nice balance between rhythmic drive and easy-going charm. The orchestra and chorus are up to their usual high standard. (By the way, Mr. Abel was born in Toronto and it is great to see him finally make his COC debut.)

Michael Johnson



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