L'elisir d'amore (Royal Opera House)
Grigolo and Terfel headline a classy revival of this Covent Garden favourite
I guess it's one of those lucky productions. Not only does Laurent Pelly's staging of Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore hit the funny bone with its inventiveness and ingenuity, it's been blest with top-notch casts at every revival – and the current one is no exception.
Pelly's a rum cove: a slave to his sardonic eye, he's a menace to tragedy or melodrama because part of him always wants to send them up. Give him a comedy though, such as this or his equally popular La Fille du régiment, and he's in clover – as are his singers and, by extension, the Royal Opera audiences.
The first night of this latest run was beset by sluggishness for the first half-hour or so, less from the stage than a curiously bleary and unresponsive audience. That all changed once the story was up and running, and once Bryn Terfel found his comic groove and an initially tentative Royal Opera Chorus got into its stride.
Terfel plays Dulcamara, a roving quack who supplies miracle elixirs to the gullible inhabitants of a sundrenched, Vittorio de Sica version of rural Italy in the mid 20th Century. Lovelorn hick Nemorino would sell his soul to this devil if it could win him the affection of bookish barkeeper Adina; happily though, all he really needs (or so he thinks) is a swig of the charlatan's magic potion.
Whereas the otherwise good 2012 revival was hamstrung by poor conducting, this one motors at an ideal pace under young maestro Daniele Rustioni. He's an unaffectedly enthusiastic conductor of this repertoire and his grasp of its idiom helps him tease out all the brightness in Donizetti's score as well as energising the singers and orchestra alike.
'Terfel adds bel canto to his portfolio and comes up trumps'
Daniel Dooner has come up with a knockout revival of Pelly's production, Chantal Thomas's spectacular designs look as great as ever, haystacks to the fore, and Vittorio Grigolo is a tremendous Nemorino. The tenor's physical vitality and zing are matched only by the suppleness of his golden voice in music that fits him perfectly and earned him rapturous applause for "Quanto è bella" and "Una furtiva lagrima".
Lucy Crowe, returning to harness after taking time out for a happy event, is not quite back to her best yet and the tone was a touch colourless in the upper reaches precisely where it needs coloratura blossom. But her performance as Adina was delightfully winning even if she is more English rose than sultry Italian.
There's a terrific turn from Levente Molnár as Sergeant Belcore, a kind of comic Escamillo who can't keep his wandering hands off Adina. While the blackguard he plays is a space invader of the worst kind, the Romanian baritone's even timbre, disturbingly heroic for such a creepy character, is a joy.
As for Terfel, master of Mozart, Wagner, Puccini and, er, Sondheim, here he adds bel canto to his portfolio and comes up trumps yet again. A natural comic who's not afraid to overegg the odd moment, the Welshman's delivery of Italian patter isn't quite at the Ambrogio Maestri level but it's getting there, and he's a lot lighter on his pins.
L'elisir d'amore is the perfect early Christmas treat – and if you're still not persuaded, it's got two lovable puppies who'll give you an 'aah'. One's the little dog who bounds across the stage from time to time; the other is Grigolo. Do go. You'll enjoy them both.