The cheap Bordeaux masquerading as Dulcamara’s ‘elixir’ seemed to have an intoxicating effect on more than Nemorino last night. Conductor Daniele Rustioni's zippy tempi – whilst welcome – weren’t always executed cleanly by the orchestra in this revival of L’elisir d’amore. Pit and stage parted company several times, with ensembles threatening to come clean off the rails. Yet Laurent Pelly’s ‘giant haystacks’ production, updated to 1950s Italy, continues to charm audiences and rightly so.

Vittorio Grigolo (Nemorino) © Mark Douet | Royal Opera
Vittorio Grigolo (Nemorino)
© Mark Douet | Royal Opera

Pelly offers us an Italian village with ramshackle buildings and cornfields stretching to the horizon. Local lads, desperate to attract the girls, ride their bicycles and mopeds up and down the lane. The bumpkin Nemorino only has eyes for one girl – Adina, a wealthy landowner who is out of his league. He is so desperate to win her affection that he purchases an elixir from the quack doctor, which (Dulcamara claims) will make Adina fall in love with him. The problem with having a Nemorino sporting such matinee idol good looks as Vittorio Grigolo’s is that it’s difficult to believe that the women in the village – Adina included – aren’t dragging him off for a roll in the hay from the start. Winning over the audience proved easy.

Grigolo reined in his natural exuberance (until the curtain call, at least) and offered a likeable Nemorino, puppy-like in his pursuit of Adina, whilst proving an adorable drunk. Vocally, his tenor is very attractive too: an old-fashioned, open sound, with a hint of a sob. He doesn’t always use it sensitively, though; “Una furtiva lagrima”, the opera’s hit number, was subject to choppy phrasing and the odd swooning portamento, but won hearts through its sincerity and was cheered to the rafters.

Lucy Crowe (Adina) and Bryn Terfel (Dulcamara) © Mark Douet | Royal Opera
Lucy Crowe (Adina) and Bryn Terfel (Dulcamara)
© Mark Douet | Royal Opera

We often tease the ones we love. Adina can come across as cold and heartless in some productions, but Pelly casts her as a bit of a minx who enjoys taunting Nemorino for the reaction it gets, though she secretly admires him. Making her role debut, Lucy Crowe’s Adina initially has a sweet ‘girl next door’ quality but she proves feisty enough to hold her own against Grigolo’s charm offensive. Sadly, Crowe’s pearly soprano, so celebrated in Baroque repertoire, was lacking here in a performance where top notes sometimes sounded paper-thin.

There was no lack of volume from the two lower voices on display. Bryn Terfel’s roguish Dulcamara and Levente Molnár’s randy Sergeant Belcore both provided plenty of decibels, although revival director Daniel Dooner could do with curbing a few dramatic excesses, especially Molnár’s bottom-pinching and hip-thrusting. Terfel played the Covent Garden audience like a fiddle and his antics constantly drew the eye, especially in asides where he revealed his elixir was very much vin ordinaire. Dulcamara’s entrance aria "Udite, udite, o rustici", during which he disembarks his truck to peddle his dodgy potions to the locals, was boisterously dispatched. His bass-baritone was clearly in rude health, but at times he could be inclined to roar. Molnár was also vocally bullish, aspirates hampering his opening salvo to Adina, “Come Paride vezzoso”. His emphatic vocal performance could be described as being in character, but Donizetti deserves more sense of style than this. The Royal Opera Chorus, usually so strong, suffered an under-par evening, compromised more than the soloists by Rustioni’s vigorous tempi.

Lucy Crowe (Adina) and Levente Molnár (Belcore) © Mark Douet | ROH
Lucy Crowe (Adina) and Levente Molnár (Belcore)
© Mark Douet | ROH

Whilst still a charming production, a touch more warmth and bel canto style are yet required to bring some authentic Italian sunshine to Bow Street this November.

***11