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The Vintage Guide To London | December 16, 2017

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Review: Classic opera The Elixir of Love had a Fifties make-over

Jonathan Miller’s acclaimed 2010 production of The Elixir of Love returns to the Coliseum for a limited season. Donizetti’s classic opera has been rejuvenated with an extraordinary Fifties diner style set designed by renowned Isabella Bywater, with an imaginative interpretation and translation of the original libretto by Kelley Rourke. Rebecca McWattie reviews.

The action of this sleeping beauty-esque romantic comedy, once set in rural nineteenth century Italy now takes place in roadside Adina’s Diner, Mid-West America. For any Fifties lovers the revolving diner set is a joy, turning 360 degrees, complete with a Coca Cola vending machine, Fifties  convertible and petrol pumps.

Tenor Ben Johnson shines in his first major operatic role as Nemorino – a young car mechanic, infatuated with Adina the blonde, voluptuous diner proprietress. Adina, played by soprano Sarah Tynan, perfectly captures the style of Marilyn Monroe in her prime, wiggling her hips and mercilessly flirting and teasing Nemorino whilst declaring “life’s too short to have one lover”.The other man vying for Adina’s affections is arrogant Sergeant Belcore, played by baritone Benedict Nelson.

In typical fairytale fashion,  a Dr Dulcamara arrives, not on horseback but driving a swanky car. Dulcamara wastes no time in offering the locals his ‘elixir’ – a curative, he boasts, for any ailment. Nemorino, taken in by the quack doctor’s claims, purchases the elixir in the hope that he can make Adina fall in love with him, not realising she already is. Andrew Shore returns for the first six performances of Dr Dulcamara – the role which earned him an Olivier award in 2010 for Outstanding Achievement in Opera.

Although modernising classic operas can often seem gratuitous – the director often playing the novelty-factor card in order to gain more attention and to get more bums on seats, Sir Jonathan Miller isn’t one of them. His remarkable work at the English National Opera spans over 30 years, and having gained a reputation for innovation and modernisation, deservedly received a Knighthood in 2003 for his services to the arts.

Now 77, Miller’s deftness of touch is still unquestionable – remaining respectful to the original work whilst hoping to introduce a new audience to the joys of opera. This production will be a revelation to anyone expecting opera to be stuffy and overly lengthy. I daresay Donizetti may be turning over in his grave, but frankly when a production is as good as this – who cares?

Booking Information:
9 performances starting from 15 September 2011 – 15, 23, 28 September & 1, 4, 6, October at 7.30pm and 25 September & 8 October 3pm.

London Coliseum tour pre-performance, Saturday 1 October; tour starts at 2.30pm, £10 per person.

Running time 2h30m
Box office: 02078360111 or book tickets online.