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Sunday 11 August 2013

L'elisir d'amore and Les pêcheurs de perles at Opera Holland Park

Les pêcheurs de perles 03/07/13
L'elisir d'amore 16/07/13

I somehow forgot to finish and post these reviews a month ago, but include them here now for completeness' sake before my season round up.

I've already gone on at length on this blog about why I'm so keen on L'elisir d'amore (You can read my thoughts here.) but needless to say that I've never yet tired of it in all the times I've seen it. Director Pia Furtado sets the opera in the present day on a sunflower plantation, Nemorino and the chorus a group of workers, and Adina a sort of figurehead of the organisation (she's on the advertising, but far too relaxed and casual to be the owner of the business - perhaps it's daddy's business, which would fit her brattish sense of entitlement). The set (designed by Leslie Travers) is a view into the interior of a greenhouse with the back ends of two lorries which have reversed into the space.

The army inexplicably show up, Belcore apparently famous with the locals and somewhat of a laughing stock too. Right at the beginning we're introduced to Dulcamara, in this production a deeply creepy hippyish type - who sneaks around during the prelude, before we know who he is (since Nemorino is in the first scene this is quite a nice sleight of hand as we at first assume that we are being introduced to the romantic lead).

The first act is mostly well handled. Sarah Tynan's Adina is self aware, self assured and loves being admired - she thinks she knows everything about men, despite her young years. George von Bergen's Belcore feels an equal sense of entitlement, but is much more naive, and so is a laughing stock as he doesn't "get it". Aldo Di Toro's Nemorino is as sincere and serious as one could hope for. The chatty, gossipy crowd create a bustling atmosphere, though the soldier's dance moves are a bit hard to credit. The "set up", as it were felt strong for second act, but unfortunately I felt there was less detail and subtlety in the second half - the all important scene that follows Una Furtiva Lagrima not quite yielding the insights and dramatic potential that are available here. I also thought that more could have been drawn out of the women's infatuation with Nemorino, but overall it's a fun evening, it never drags, and is an engaging if not challenging view of the piece.

Sarah Tynan uncannily recalls actress Sheridan Smith in the first Act, not just in her looks, but in her flirty demeanour too, though she becomes considerably more restrained and serious in the second act. Vocally she is in control and expressive, possessing a fairly attractive full lyric sound, though the vibrato is sometimes a shade wide and slow for comfort in the upper reaches of the voice. Aldo di Toro's Nemorino is equally well sung, with long lines, a good feeling for style, and a bright, slightly "complaining" timbre that fits the character's sense of self pity. George von Bergen's Belcore is vocally a very gruff and loud, but the timbre is very "muddy" in the sense that every tone contains a lot of harmonics not in the fundamental. Geoffrey Dolton is hyperactive as Dulcamara, and the suite of characterisations he has fashioned for his character (e.g. the wobbling head, the constantly outstretched tongue) make him hard to watch. Vocally he is fine, though rather small scale. Conductor Steven Higgins leads a sprightly and beautiful account of the score, though one which doesn't always give enough dramatic thrust to the music. Still far better than one often hears.

Two weeks earlier (03/07/13) I attended Opera Holland Park's production of Bizet's The Pearlfishers. I love Bizet's music, and so really lament the fact that so much of it is marooned in dull or farfetched plots with poor librettos, which render so many of his operas all but unviable for the stage. So it is with The Pearlfishers whose plot is stock, characters bland and conclusion wholly unsatisfying. Yet this unengaging text enshrines a gorgeous score, which while not as dramatically vivid or quite as memorable as Carmen, is nevertheless just as beautiful and pleasurable to experience for those predisposed to French opera.

The singing was generally quite good. Soula Parassidis made a beautiful Leila whose very covered and dark soprano surprises in scaling significant heights. The brittle top sounded best in the dramatic outbursts of the final few scenes. Grant Doyle and Jung Soo Yun were decent as her suitors Zurga and Nadir, steady and secure, though failing to make a great impact in the very difficult acoustics of the OHP theatre.

The problem with this production is that it didn't interpret the libretto imaginatively enough: characters remained bland and unspecific, the political subtext unexplored, the setting a cod Indian society with the main set item a sheet on pulleys, put to work as a net and a tent. The real Indian dancers were a nice touch, but weren't enough to distract from the dullness of the rest. The result failed to make a compelling case for the opera as a viable dramatic entity.

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