The world of director David Bösch’s L’elisir d’amore is a curious place. It seems to have been pulled from a dark cartoon or comic book. The lighting is always dim; the villagers’ clothing is tattered; Dulcamara arrives on a strange spinning contraption cobbled together from a scrap yard; and the soldiers who come to town are genuinely menacing. Yet the details are all delightfully childish, from the loopy cursive title on the curtain to Giannetta’s backpack and headphones to the balloons Nemorino carries around. This town is no particular real place, but a very well-defined setting nonetheless: an isolated village short on money but long on hope, where any newcomer creates a big stir.

Ekaterina Siurina (Adina) and Charles Castronovo (Nemorino) © Wilfried Hösl | Bavarian State Opera
Ekaterina Siurina (Adina) and Charles Castronovo (Nemorino)
© Wilfried Hösl | Bavarian State Opera

It’s the perfect hometown for Charles Castronovo’s childish, show-stealing Nemorino. He is overdrawn and pathetic, but he’s also entirely earnest. He’ll die to earn Adina’s love, and when he threatens suicide, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry. In any case, it’s impossible not to sympathize. Castronovo also sings gloriously, with a full but flexible sound. He deserves a special mention for delivering “Una furtiva lagrima” so lyrically after scrambling to the top of a lamppost. He should also be commended for his bravery in pelvic thrusting enthusiastically while wearing nothing but boxers and a vest.

Charles Castronovo (Nemorino) and Ambrogio Maestri (Dulcamara) © Wilfried Hösl | Bavarian State Opera
Charles Castronovo (Nemorino) and Ambrogio Maestri (Dulcamara)
© Wilfried Hösl | Bavarian State Opera

I initially worried that Ekaterina Siurina was miscast as the cold-hearted object of Nemorino’s affection, Adina. Act I included some unfortunate aspirates and approximatura. But she seemed to simply need warming up: her singing in Act II was both clear-toned and precise, especially during “Una tenera occhiatina”. Her acting didn’t include much other than head-tossing and strutting, but what else does Adina really need? She wasn’t as convincing when she finally confessed her love to Nemorino, but her vocal fireworks during “Il mio rigor dimentica” more than made up for this dramatic shortcoming.

Ambrogio Maestri’s Dulcamara was a surprisingly complicated character – greedy and lustful, but also a keen observer of the people around him and a clever opportunist. He dominated the stage whenever he appeared, using both his charisma and his big bass voice to excellent effect. As Belcore, Roman Burdenko was especially callous, even tossing Nemorino a pistol at the end of Act I! Both his swagger and his singing were effective but predictable. In the small role of Giannetta, Mária Celeng showed off a lovely soprano voice and proudly sported an absurd costume and hairstyle. The female chorus backed her up well and were particularly funny when they all donned wedding dresses and threw themselves at Nemorino in Act II.

Mária Celeng (Giannetta) © Wilfried Hösl | Bavarian State Opera
Mária Celeng (Giannetta)
© Wilfried Hösl | Bavarian State Opera

Under Asher Fisch’s baton, the Bayerische Staatsorchester kept up a brisk overall pace, while staying musically precise and very well-coordinated with the singers. They sometimes seemed timid about volume, though, which left them with limited dynamic range.

As this Elisir d’amore ends, Nemorino and Adina climb atop Dulcamara’s odd mechanical contraption. Then everything goes haywire – the supertitles display a flashing error message, the onstage lights begin blinking wildly, and alcohol rains down on the villagers. Although the finale is textually a farewell to Dulcamara, we’re really celebrating to triumph of Nemorino’s childish stubbornness and hope. Cynical audience members might stay aloof and shake their heads at the folly they’ve seen onstage. Don’t be one of them. Spectators who can accept a little kitsch and are willing to be taken in by the characters’ earnestness will experience both heartbreak and elation during the course of this delightful show.