The Elixir of Love English National Opera at the London Coliseum

This is the first time ENO have mounted Donizetti s bucolic comedy of unrequited love. Jude Kelly was engaged to direct her first opera, after major successes at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and in Washington D.C. with Othello (a production where all the cast were black, except Othello, who was white). On paper, it seemed an inspired choice on ENO s part to entrust this opera to her.

How frustrating then on the night to witness such a parade of operatic clichés (the operas that Kelly seems to have witnessed bear no resemblance to anything I ve seen on the lyric stage in the last fifteen years). The impression of ‘God, nothing happens here, so lets have loads of extras running around trying to be funny for no reason dominates the staging.

Robert Jones designs update the action to the 1940s/50s, with the opening scene taking place in the mayor s office in some totalitarian oppressive state. That s fine but the way in which we are distracted from concentrating on the main characters by all the busy goings on and the desperately un-funny actions of the chorus (no surprise that Quinny Sacks choreographs the show - she drove a steam-roller through The Fairy Queen a few years back) is inexcusable. Andrew Shore is a fine comedian and the role of Dulcamera fits him like a glove, but he s not allowed to be funny by means of the text and music. Kelly imposes the humour on him by employing sight-gags and props. How the audience laughed when the bouncy castle appeared; how I cringed.

It s hard to give a measured review of the singers as they are barely noticeable amongst the clutter and ‘village-hall feel to this show. Mary Plazas as Adina survives barely unscathed, and sings marvellously - she is a treasurable artist and an asset to the house. As I said earlier, Shore does what he can with Dulcamera under the circumstances. Barry Banks sounds rather strained in the role of Nemorino, but when did you last see Pavarotti have to run round the stage constantly, climb ladders and sing? I so desperately wanted to shout ‘stand still . If he had been allowed to, perhaps all his singing would have been as golden-toned as his lovely rendition of ‘Una furtiva lagrima . Ashly Holland struts his stuff aptly in the role of Belcore and sings with a nicely rounded warm baritone zing. Michael Lloyd conducts with exactly the right kind of humour in the pit that is so sorely lacking on the stage.

Good cast, frustrating staging.

Keith McDonnell, January 1998