They giggle and laugh, stagger and sprawl, hug and pose: it’s rather like a typical boozy weekend in the streets of Leeds City Centre on stage at the Grand Theatre, but we are right back in the 1950s on the sunny forefront of the Hotel Adina in an expensive Italian resort, and the pre-wedding party is in full swing at the beginning of Act II. The Opera North Chorus, smartly-choreographed (by Tim Clayden), magnificently full-throated (Chorus Master Martin Pickard) and costumed beautifully in the authentic outfits of the period, gives a pretty good idea of what drinking cheap red wine can lead to. Which is love, of course. What else? Any further updating of this old favourite, first performed in 1832, might lead a director to contemplate other love potions – Viagra for example – which would probably not work with this classic story. The production is indeed old, dating from when director Daniel Slater first staged it in Leeds in 2000, but it has been successfully rejuvenated, Slater has returned, and the vintage champagne bubbles are still rising fast.

Jung Soo Yun (Nemorino), Freddie Butterfield and Richard Burkhard (Dulcamara) © Robert Workman
Jung Soo Yun (Nemorino), Freddie Butterfield and Richard Burkhard (Dulcamara)
© Robert Workman

It helps that lead tenor Jung Soo Yun as Nemorino (here, the character is a green-aproned waiter) has a well-established drunk act, which he can switch on and off with alacrity, depending on how much of Dulcamara’s powerful plonk has passed his lips. Possibly, he gives us too much of this act as he shambles about, but it does not detract from the effects of his voice, which is strongly memorable from the first scene when he gives us “Quanto è bella, quanto è cara” (How beautiful she is), in which he is lightly lyrical, and sweet with a mysterious edgy quality. He seems to hold back a little, without savouring too many high notes, saving his full force for later, especially for the touch of pathos in Act II, Donizetti’s masterstroke “Una furtiva lagrima” (A furtive tear) which sets off everything else.

Equally, if not more, memorable is baritone Duncan Rock as swaggering Captain Belcore, who appears with his smirking crew in an immaculate white uniform, riding a Vespa through the tables and chairs. He is the type who might kick sand into the face of a lesser-muscled man, like Nemorino, but he has great comic style, as he flips open a little compartment in his scooter to produce a bunch of red roses for Adina, kicking it shut and proceeding to her table to claim her as his own. Duncan is most compelling, his rich chocolate baritone dominating as he sings “Come Paride vezzoso” (Just as the charming Paris…) in Act I. He also reveals considerable acting talents throughout.

Jung Soo Yun (Nemorino) and Duncan Rock (Belcore) © Robert Workman
Jung Soo Yun (Nemorino) and Duncan Rock (Belcore)
© Robert Workman

Richard Burkhard makes Dulcamara, the fraudulent doctor, into an immensely likeable, fast and funny quack. His arrival by balloon and his aria “Udite, udite o rustici” (Listen, you rustics), incongruously addressed to sophisticated coffee drinkers, is particularly amusing, and he excels in combination with Adina in Act II when he points out with excellent diction that he is rich and she is beautiful, as she teases him with her long scarf.

Gabriela Iştoc (Adina) © Robert Workman
Gabriela Iştoc (Adina)
© Robert Workman
Gabriela Iştoc was made for the role of Adina (just as she was made for the role of Mimì in this same theatre in 2014), an effortless centre of attention as she slinks around the stage. All of her arias are delivered with soaring charm, notably “Prendi per me sei libero” (I have freed you) in Act II. She has great warmth: I recall her singing love songs most movingly in Romanian in a kind of café set up in the Howard Assembly Room (attached to the Grand Theatre) as part of a walk-in show during the Leeds Light Night last October, a casual treat from one of Romania’s leading sopranos.

The Opera North Orchestra is appropriately agile and sensitive, capturing the effervescence of the music under conductor Tobias Ringborg. This is a production which still bubbles with life, in spite of its age.