This was meant to be Pretty Yende's night. The South African soprano, praised for her bel canto feats at houses like The Met and Paris, was making her much-anticipated Royal Opera debut as Adina, the beautiful landowner playing hard-to-get in Donizetti's joyous comedy, L'elisir d'amore. In the end, it was the Armenian tenor singing country bumpkin Nemorino who stole hearts. Liparit Avetisyan wasn't quite making his Royal Opera debut, having performed in a single La traviata earlier this season. His appearance here saw Avetisyan replace the originally scheduled Rolando Villazón.

Pretty Yende (Adina) and Liparit Avetisyan (Nemorino) © ROH | Bill Cooper
Pretty Yende (Adina) and Liparit Avetisyan (Nemorino)
© ROH | Bill Cooper

Avetisyan could well have studied Villazón's Nemorino, one of his better roles, right down to his expressive eyebrows. He played the lovesick puppy to perfection, doting hopelessly around Adina, clambering the giant haystacks of Laurent Pelly's production with the eagerness of a mountain goat. His sense of bravado, inspired by Dulcamara's “love potion”, was very funny and his little jump when Adina finally admits she loves him was completely endearing. Avetisyan's tenor is a good fit for the role – large enough for bel canto and with a sweet, easy top which made “Una furtiva lagrima” the highlight of the show that it deserves to be.

Paolo Bordogna (Belcore) and Pretty Yende (Adina) © ROH | Bill Cooper
Paolo Bordogna (Belcore) and Pretty Yende (Adina)
© ROH | Bill Cooper

Yende is a charming Adina, possibly too charming given that she's meant to be a bit of a minx, leading our tenor on by accepting a marriage proposal from the thrusting – in all senses – Sergeant Belcore. Her sunny personality is matched by a sunny voice, a bright tone with pinpoint accuracy in the fioritura (literally “flowering”) of her vocal lines. Her Act 2 aria “Prendi, per me sei libero” was touchingly done. Some of Yende's high notes were on the pale side and her diction didn't always convince, but this was a nice house debut.

Liparit Avetisyan (Nemorino) and Alex Esposito (Dulcamara) © ROH | Bill Cooper
Liparit Avetisyan (Nemorino) and Alex Esposito (Dulcamara)
© ROH | Bill Cooper

Paolo Bordogna and Alex Esposito provided some real Italian authenticity. Bordogna has a lean baritone but can bluster like the best buffos and his patter is nimble. His Belcore swaggered with self-confidence and he was quick to concede Adina to Nemorino, swiftly turning his attentions to Vlada Borovko's Giannetta. Esposito has a booming bass-baritone and his Dulcamara was a touch on the thuggish side... but then, the quack doctor is a crook, after all. His opening pitch to the villagers to buy his miraculous elixir was done with volume and vigour. If only there had been a bit more of a twinkle in his scene with Adina where, arguably, Dulcamara also falls under her spell.

Pretty Yende (Adina), Liparit Avetisyan (Nemorino) and Paolo Bordogna (Belcore) © ROH | Bill Cooper
Pretty Yende (Adina), Liparit Avetisyan (Nemorino) and Paolo Bordogna (Belcore)
© ROH | Bill Cooper

I capitulate to Pelly's production as easily as Nemorino succumbs to a bottle of cheap Bordeaux. Transported to the 1950s, with lads on Vespas racing past a rundown trattoria to attract the girls, it's high on the feel-good factor. Adina suns herself perched halfway up a haystack, over which Belcore makes his grand entrance. Pelly's at his best in comedy, even if he refers to the Ministry of Silly Walks too often. Revived by Daniel Dooner, this infectious show bursts with sunshine, reflected in the pit, where Bertrand de Billy conducts with a sense of beaming joy. Just the thing to raise the spirits.