Eleonora Buratto as Adina, Mattia Olivieri as Belcore © Teatro alla Scala
Eleonora Buratto as Adina, Mattia Olivieri as Belcore
© Teatro alla Scala
Last month, under the baffled, jetlagged gazes of frequent fliers and the ambient clatter of rolling luggages, Teatro alla Scala's opening night of Gaetano Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore was staged in a reduced version at the Malpensa airport, 50km north of the Piermarini stage. Flown under the "La Scala for All" proletarian banner of Teatro alla Scala's new intendant and artistic director, Alexander Pereira, the ambitious project read as a carbon-dated novelty. Love it or hate it, there was no doubt that the "in-house" version of subsequent replications fared better under Tullio Pericoli's folkloric, fairytale Naïf Art sets and costumes, reprised from its original 1998 La Scala premiere.

Composed in six weeks by Donizetti with libretto by Felice Romani, L'elisir is the simple tale of a sweet country boy besotted with a feisty, rich city girl. Throw in the vain alpha male, the eccentric doctor, Bordeaux-soaked bravado and true love's kiss, and the two-act comic opera was an instant hit when it premiered in 1832 in Milan.

© Teatro alla Scala
© Teatro alla Scala

In its current La Scala incarnation under a new direction by Grischa Asagaroff, the rural Basque village was rendered as a children’s storybook illustration of faraway fables, generously lit under Hans Rudolf Kunz's cheery beige and yellow sunlight. Beyond stately trees hand-painted onto cutouts, backdrops were naïve-style vignettes of charming, rural villages. The act two wedding banquet in Adina's farmhouse was a hand-painted backdrop of harvest fruits and vegetables.

Props were rationed – a papier-mâché wild boar was lured out by love duets and hunted elusively by jolly peasants. Dulcamara's ornate wagon cart was a small cabin that took design cues from Buddhist temples and Islamic mosques, gridded in trays resonant of Chinese medicine cabinets. Costumes were rendered in ombré palettes, gradated from cream-colored bottoms to pastel, pigment-saturated tops – chestnut brown for peasants, powder blue for Belcore's regiment. Palettes were meticulously sourced from extinct Forties tonalities of blues, reds and oranges, and costume shapes emphasized youthful forms – barrel chests and narrow thighs, or nipped, feminine waist.

Through naïve stage language and exaggerated costume embellishments, characters were rendered as toys that had magically come to life. On choirmaster Bruno Casoni's excellent chorus, large, three-dimensional buttons gave a doll-like effect. Belcore's unthreatening regiment – topped in blue fezzes laid with white, three-dimensional pompoms – marched in exaggerated pomp over white riding boots and carried rifles of painted-wood cutouts.

Atalla Ayan as Nemorino © Teatro alla Scala
Atalla Ayan as Nemorino
© Teatro alla Scala
Complementary to the childlike, fable aesthetic, lead characters were bleached into passive, one-dimensional vagaries. Eleonora Buratto's Adina was sweet and confident with none of the capricious, coquettish energy given to the role – flirt, fire and feistiness were extinguished. Playfulness and passion was dialed down to zero. Similarly, Atalla Ayan's Nemorino was serious and morose, as opposed to the shy, bashful, petulant, rural country folk often affected by his character.

Buratto – in a rouge-tinted bodice over a long, cream skirt with thigh-high vents – broadcast a lyric soprano timber with sonorous low notes, secure agility and acute accents on ornamentation. “Prendi per me sei libero” carried a nice legato.

Ayan – in a yellow and pink jacket over white bottoms – variegated studious preparation with pleasant timber. His first act finale, "Adina, credimi", and the "Quanto è bella, quanto è cara" cavatina unlocked heartfelt nuance, while the "Una furtiva lagrima" romanza was delivered with convincing devotion from an oversized suitcase dragged into a dense forest.

The most convincing characters were demonstrated by Mattia Olivieri's Belcore and Michele Pertusi's Dulcamara – the former a military brat, the latter a mystic itinerant. As the sergeant in a puffy-sleeved top, Olivieri downplayed swagger and sex for smirking vanity where militaristic markings were tethered to clean-shaven cheeks and severely-parted, slicked-back hair. In "Come Paride vezzoso", his deeply-burnished baritone highlighted a colorful middle and sonorous projection.

Michele Pertusi as Dulcamara © Teatro alla Scala
Michele Pertusi as Dulcamara
© Teatro alla Scala
Pertusi swapped the wit and flamboyance of the wandering charlatan for an otherworldly genie dressed in a vague mix of oriental pajamas. The act two "Io son ricco e tu sei bella" barcarola was sung in uninhibited, clear voice. At his side, spritely Jan Pezzali's outstanding actor-mime moved in simian-like gestures across the stage in warmly-colored playsuit dotted with three-dimensional, spherical embellishments.

Fabio Luisi and the Teatro alla Scala Orchestra eschewed melancholic shades of Donizetti's score for crisp, sparkling, effervescent joy with precise, clean control. The brilliant, dazzling interpretation often sourced his Austrian conservatory education with waltz-like elegance and jauntiness.

For Audiences long inured to 21st century directors' fetishes for post-apocalyptic grit and brawl, the Pericoli's folkloric, naïf aesthetic provided a light-handed return to nostalgia.