Donizetti – LÕelisir dÕamore
Nemorino – John-Colyn Gyeantey
Adina – Alinka Kozari
Belcore – Gary Griffiths
Il Dottor Dulcama – John Savournin
Giannetta – Rhona McKail
Southbank Sinfonia/ Simon Over
Director – Stuart Barker
Designer – Stuart Targett
26 July 2008
The 1830Õs were golden years for opera: in 1831 Auber, collaborating with his great librettist Scribe, had a success with an opera entitled Le Philtre and within months Donizetti had commissioned Romani to produce an Italian version, counterpointing the comedy with elements of pathos and transferring it to the composerÕs native countryside. Anghiari is very much the sort of place that Donizetti and Romani would have had in mind.
Approached by a long straight road across the fertile Upper Tiber Valley, Anghiari is perched in isolation on a steep escarpment, with invincible stone walls enclosing the medieval fortress town. Clearly it would have had a resident militia, ready to be sent out to fight elsewhere if required, but the remainder of the rustic population of a place somewhat off the beaten track could be forgiven for theirexcitement at the arrival in their midst of the flamboyant Doctor Dulcamara, peddling his Ōmirabile liquoreĶ.
Even today the steeply sloped cobble-streets within the walls twist and intertwine like a maze, finally allowing the visitor to reach the 12th century Piazza del Popolo, perforce on foot. Here a simple platform stage had been constructed to present the opera directly to the townspeople and appropriately drawing the surrounding buildings into the set. with director Stuart Barker and designer Stuart Target taking inspiration from the locale.
TargetÕs sets reflected the simple pleasures of the Tuscan landscape and his costumes were cleverly colour-themed. Royal blue and scarlet for the militia, Dulcamara exotic in purple and pink, harvest combinations for the peasants (with the credulous Nemorino appositely in green), and the beautiful Adina showed off a succession of drop-dead gorgeous frocks.
I have been a fan of BarkerÕs direction for several years; his faithfulness to the score and scrupulous attention to detail is combined with a flair for stretching his singers to really inhabit their characters, and coaxing out a performance with more than a touch of magic about it. He revels in playing straight to the audience and with the orchestra situated to one side, we were close enough to take in every blink of the eyelid. Whether watching principals or chorus, it was obvious that we had a cast of genuine individuals in front of us.
But, of course, LÕelisir is an opera so I should focus on the singing. John-Colyn Geantey (Nemorino) whilst bringing a delightful naivety to his role, has a tenor voice of velvety smoothness which he uses to good effect. Tentatively love-sickin his opening cavatina Quanto e bella, his confidence built with the bogus elixir in Esulti pur la Barbara, to climax in the unashamedly sentimental Una furtiva lagrima with its haunting bassoon obligato and mood swings from minor to major key.
He was well matched by the Adina of Alinka Kozari, who is capable of bringing a tear to many an eye, a young Hungarian soprano to watch out for. She has an engaging stage presence combined with a voice of great clarity and totally secure coloratura. During the performance she mellowed from haughty indifference to Nemorino to heart-melting concern that she might have lost him. All her arias were delivered with aplomb – but IÕll admit to being a sentimentalist at heart and choose Prendi, me sei libero as favourite.
She also flirted outrageously both with the Belcore of Gary Griffiths (his cornflower blue eyes and flashing teeth reinforcing his desirable military status and the occasional rough edge in his voice was entirely in keeping with his macho nature) and the Dulcamara of John Savournin (a truly quixotic characterisation, equally ostentatious in marketing his potions Udite, udite, o rustici and in his impromptu duet with Adina Io son ricco, tu sei bella delivered at breathtaking speed.
Rhona McKail (Giannetta) appeared to be in her element as the ring-leader of the village girls, and the sequence in which she revealed that NemorinoÕs uncle had died leaving him as heir and the subsequent all out struggle for his affection was amongst the high points of the evening. The combined chorus of UK based student soloists and Anghiari residents gave their all – both singing with full throated enthusiasm and portraying individual vignettes.
The orchestra was placed flanking the stage and whilst Simon OverÕs conducting was always sympathetic, the spirited playing of the Southbank Sinfonia occasionally sounded over-prominent towards that side of the square.