The Elixir of Love
King’s Head Theatre
Reviewed – 30th September 2019
“Most impressive, perhaps, is that we can understand exactly what everyone is singing – something I’ve found to be an unfortunate rarity in traditional opera”
When presented with a modern undertaking of an opera, we’re so often only given a crumb of a crumb of modernity – contemporary costumes or a change of scenery perhaps. But lo and behold, when the curtains rise, it’s just the same old script, poorly disguised in trainers and a t-shirt.
Opera D’draig and the King’s Head Theatre’s shiny new take on The Elixir Of Love, directed by Hannah Noone, is not such a production. Wrenched from its original setting of 1830’s Spain, we find ourselves instead in 1980’s Barry, Wales – much better. But that’s just the start: Writers Chris Harris and David Eaton have near on chucked away Donizetti’s much lauded L’Elisir D’Amore, retaining only the key plot points and looking to their contemporary audience for inspiration rather than a bunch of tired old tropes and traditions. And what a success it is! There really is something gloriously satisfying about hearing a beautiful, soaring soprano singing ‘f*ck’.
The story itself would require a lot more meat as a straight play, but perhaps it’s the contrast of the usually conservative opera format and the unbridled irreverence of this production that makes it so compelling: We open with Adina’s caf, complete with wipe-down tables and menus, lots of big hair, shoulder pads and classic ‘80s knitwear (Amanda Mascarenhas).
Nicky (David Powton) is a wet blanket who spends all day gazing lovingly at café owner Adina (Alys Roberts) from afar. When Adina’s lover (Themba Mvula) returns from the army, Nicky becomes worried that he’ll lose his chance if he doesn’t act fast. In walks Dulcamara (Matthew Kellett), an oil slick in a suit selling various tonics to any sucker who’ll buy them. Spotting an ideal customer in Nicky he quickly persuades him to part with all his cash in exchange for an ‘elixir of love’, guaranteed to solve all his problems… And so on and so forth, with all the usual twists and misunderstandings of a comic opera.
Though this production would certainly appeal to a much wider audience who have perhaps felt alienated by opera in the past, it equally fulfils all the quality criteria of a seasoned opera-goer, with a cast of beautiful voices, Alys Roberts in particular deftly combining little flecks of Welsh dialect with rich, velvety top notes. Most impressive, perhaps, is that we can understand exactly what everyone is singing – something I’ve found to be an unfortunate rarity in traditional opera.
This is not opera as we know it. No more archaic, stodgy language and plotlines based around extinct social practices. The Elixir Of Love is gorgeously witty, furiously fast-paced and thoroughly contemporary.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Bill Knight
The Elixir of Love
King’s Head Theatre until 26th October
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: