By Eula Mengullo, February 9 2024—
Calgary Opera is staying on theme this romance season with the production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Elixir of Love from Feb. 3 to Feb. 9. Based on Donizetto’s book, the timeless — and contemporarily relevant — romantic comedy follows an unreciprocated yearning on behalf of Nemorino, portrayed by David Portillo and his love interest, Adina, played by Simone Osborne.
Immediately as the curtains were drawn, the stage revealed a seamlessly curated set design that captured the idyllic and romantic essence of an Italian countryside village with aged, brick-brown houses, stucco roofs and bay-sized windows lined with green ivies and red roses. The context of the story is matched perfectly with the wardrobe that starkly contrasts and communicates the differences between the two lovers. Nemorino’s modest, working-class status is portrayed by the muted tones of his wardrobe, while Adina’s sophisticated gowns befitted her Southern Belle’s status in the village. Throughout the story, the lighting design adeptly captured the transition of time, with the sky changing from blue to rosy pink and eventually to a golden hue as the scenes progressed and marked the setting of the sun.
One of the themes explored by the story is that of a classic rivalry between a man of modest means against one of status and acclaim. Nemorino’s rival, the humorous and brash character of Sergeant Belcore, played by Andrew Love, more or less provided comedic relief throughout the show. His status as an accomplished – but self-important — Sergeant presents him as a formidable opponent to the impoverished Nemorino. In Act 1, we are also introduced to the amusing and eccentric quack doctor — and self-proclaimed “Dr. Encyclopedia” — Dr. Dulcamara played by Ao Li, who amused the audience with his comedic sales strategy. With his mystery love potion — which was revealed to have actually just been red wine (but a British Columbia wine at that!) — Neromino hopes that he will eventually win Adina over.
The distance and suspense between the two lovers were further amplified as the two attempted to outdo each other in their “waiting game” in Act 2. The “indifferent” Adina decides to postpone her wedding for revenge — which, in a way, could demonstrate her reciprocated interest in Nemorino after all — meanwhile, the despairing Nemorino is waiting for the love potion to take its effect. In a modern sense, Donazetto’s classic tale is almost akin to the kind of complicated “situationships” that are prevalent nowadays – the games that most people would rather play as opposed to actually confronting and coming to terms with their feelings. It is also in the second act that we witness not only the ramping up of the story but also the beautiful and celebrated arias performed by the protagonists. Simone Osborne is a powerful soprano, with her resounding performance to Una tenera occhiatina (a tender look) as she justified to Dr. Dulcamara that she doesn’t need a love potion to make Nemorino come back to her.
In his first time as a conductor for Calgary Opera, Farkhad Khudyev led the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra as they skillfully accentuated and evoked every mood of the scene. Nemorino’s beloved aria to the classic Una furtiva lagrima (one furtive tear) was perfectly underscored by the orchestra’s melody that stirred up the pathos experienced by Nemorino as he yearned for Adina’s love and affection. This is punctuated by the deep blue, starless sky in the background, lit only by a few candlelights on the street, which is emblematic of the melancholy and indecision that Nemorino found himself in.
Alas, a change of heart occurs to Adina after learning that Nemerino was willing to sign away his freedom to earn her love. This tenderness and emotional development marks Adina’s redemption arc as the two seal it with a kiss, which drew gasps and roaring applause from the audience.
The Elixir of Love is a testament to Calgary Opera’s ability to deliver a compelling performance while exploring one of the most fundamental human experiences. The modern-day relevance of this art form is demonstrated in allowing its audience to vicariously experience the cultural influences of the time while demonstrating how it translates and continues in today’s standards, albeit in a slightly different manner. The synergy between the orchestra, the powerful voices of the arias and the vitality of the set and costume designs makes for a must-see performance for long-time opera lovers, and those with inquisitive minds who are curious to see what the hype is all about. After all, who wouldn’t want an Elixir of Love for a month dedicated to romance?