Scottish Opera has devised an attractive boutique production of Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love for small scale touring round Scotland. Starting in late September, the merry company has been performing in mid-sized venues from Dumfries and Galloway to Thurso and even Stornoway – for no Scottish tour is really complete without the added adventure of taking in at least one island – reaching Perth on the home straight. While traditional opera audiences can sometimes shy away from anything that’s not the full orchestral deal, Scottish Opera’s out-of-a-furniture-van productions have so much to offer, and this performance was full of delightful surprises.

James Cleverton (Dulcamara) © Tim Morozzo
James Cleverton (Dulcamara)
© Tim Morozzo

Donizetti’s opera, a sunny frothy tale of peasant Nemorino’s love for Adina, his rich employer, almost thwarted by the dashing Sergeant Belcore, is something of a fairy-tale in itself. Adding elixir from the roguish Doctor Dulcamara into the mix heightens the nonsense into light farce, all driven along by a score that is by turns bubbly, romantic and always full of charm.

Rather than rely on a piano, conductor and Head of Music Derek Clark reduced the whole orchestral score down to string trio, horn and guitar, which all worked marvellously, especially the guitar which added a percussive perkiness far earthier than a harpsichord. With most of the tour behind them, the players were relaxed and confident, tempos were brisk, the balance perfect and phrasing allowed the singers plenty of leeway.

Oliver Townsend designed a 1920s English formal garden set with sections of maze-high hedges for peeking over, hiding behind or singing through the gaps. Simple and effective, with a sparkling lighting plot from Mark Howland, it provided plenty of scope for director Oliver Platt and his movement director Jim Manganello to put the singers through their paces. The staging was busy and inventive with no-one staying still for very long, the cast of ten making complicated moves in a very tight space look easy as pie. With over-the-top costumes and props, it was certainly all far from subtle, but this PG Woodhouse-tinged evening was a whole lot of fun.

Ellie Laugharne (Adina) and Elgan Llŷr Thomas (Nemorino) © Tim Morozzo
Ellie Laugharne (Adina) and Elgan Llŷr Thomas (Nemorino)
© Tim Morozzo

There was some very fine singing from the young cast, soprano Ellie Laugharne taking the honours with a honeyed, warm-spirited and riveting performance as Adina, holding the attention on stage. Elgan Llyr Thomas as Nemorino, her ardent lover, shone, climbing up and down ladders, a hapless innocent downing the elixir, and particularly moving in his show stopping aria “Una furtiva lagrima”. James Cleverton was a splendidly characterful and boisterous Dulcamara, a kazoo announcing his entrance through the audience which the rest of the cast had just joined. Toby Girling, in a ridiculous ostrich feathered hat was brashly overconfident as Sergeant Belcore, and Hazel McBain was a sweet Giannetta, Adina’s friend.    Singing in English with no supertitles, the diction was the clearest I have heard for a while, even towards the back of the stalls. While at times, the action drifted slightly into pantomime with a couple of tall burly men in dresses and high heels stealing the show at one point, it was the faultless comic timing from the whole cast, including the hardworking ensemble of five, which really lifted the show, driving it along towards its happy ending.  

These small scale performances not only take opera out of the cities and out across Scotland, but they also provide a valuable important stepping stone for young singers early in their careers. Scottish Opera, to its credit, has appointed seven Emerging Artists this year across several areas of the opera house, including two singers and the movement director in this production. With balloons popping and a farewell glitter firework over the stage, they all looked like they were having enormous fun, and so were we.

****1