Inevitably, when you tinker with the scoring of a full-blown 19th century comic opera like Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore, you alter the nature of the beast. Such is the case with Scottish Opera’s seriously downsized touring production, where the wholesome fruitiness of the original orchestration is replaced by a bare bones quintet of three strings, horn and guitar, with obligato kazoo to synthesize Dulcamara’s trumpeted entrance.
Scottish Opera: The Elixir of Love ****
Motherwell Concert Hall
As we soon learn, there is charm in this approach, necessitated by the small scale venues which Oliver Platt’s pacy Scottish Opera production will visit over the coming month. Where Donizetti has bel canto largesse and ostentatious musical thrills, this version – imaginatively scored by the company’s head of music Derek Clark – finds musical intimacy and delicate frisson.
Platt’s working of the story as a whimsical farce set in 1920s England – we’re in the topiary garden of a country house – gives credence to the musical distillation, a kind of salon orchestra as the soundtrack to quaint, PG Wodehouse-style humour, flappers and idiot eccentrics.
There is little on stage that diminishes the inner glow of the original, and fine singing from relatively young voices. Ellie Laugharne as the teasing Adina is a constant fascination, both as actor and singer, finding that essential mix of social confidence and private vulnerability.
Vying for her affections are Elgan Llyr Thomas’ love struck Nemorino, as ardent and persistent as the testosterone tormenting his youthful body, and the cocksure sergeant Belcore, taken to pantomime extremes by Toby Girling.
Then there’s Dulcamara, the quack doctor, given show-stopping, Jack-the-lad treatment by the accordion-playing James Cleverton. He arrives on a bike and plays the crowd with expert comic timing and lines, in this English translation, that never entered Donizetti’s head. The moment he shows his face is the moment this production really sizzles.
There’s rarely a dull moment from this skeleton troupe. The chorus amounts to single figures, occasionally leaving the fuller moments thin, but offset by incessant theatrical energy. The periodic 1920s dance cameos are superfluous and, in truth, messy. But the humour is infectious, not least when the cast fan out and infiltrate the audience.
The small band coped bravely on opening night with the natural exposure of the reduced score, egged on by Stuart Stratford’s quick-fire musical direction. By the end of the run this should be red hot.