There was an element of scenic continuity between the lush greenery and positively balmy Holland Park evening surrounding us, and the staging of Opera Holland Park’s production of L’elisir d’amore: in the background, a large greenhouse full of the brightest sunflowers; in the foreground, sunflowers dotted about the stage, and the back ends of two lorries plastered with a large image of a field of those flowers, complete with Adina, the business’s poster girl, gazing up dreamily to the azure blue sky.

Sarah Tynan as Adina © Fritz Curzon
Sarah Tynan as Adina
© Fritz Curzon

It was not your average setting for Donizetti’s rom-com of an opera. Initially, I found Leslie Travers’ setting stylish and intriguing – not quite minimalist, but certainly a neat aesthetic of blue and its near-complementary, yellow; a modern-day, agricultural update on the bucolic setting that Donizetti and librettist Felice Romani had envisaged. The chorus, workers on the sunflower farm, bore vivid, turquoise uniforms comprising boiler suits, dungarees and caps, whilst Adina’s dress was closer to a sapphire hue. Tall trolleys of seedlings cleverly acted as moveable staging for the singers to climb up, hide behind, and lean against. However, the set ultimately became tiresome: singers constantly hiding behind or suggestively toying with the flowers, and the lack of scene change for the wedding jollities towards the end (even if the chorus did change into bohemian-chic costumery) jarred with the sense of the occasion.

That said, the humour of L’elisir was craftily brought out at every opportunity by the singers’ excellent acting and director Pia Furtado’s clear understanding of the subtleties of the libretto and music. The crazed, shamanic nature of Dulcamara, sung by Geoffrey Dolton (standing in for Richard Burkhardt at the last minute – not that you’d have known), provided the audience with many a laugh. Real comedy value was injected into the role of Nemorino (Aldo di Toro), who remained in the belief that the elixir was having an effect when the reasons for his increasing good fortune were patently obvious to those watching. Best of all in this respect were the bumbling soldiers, whose unsynchronised goose-stepping behind their sergeant Belcore’s (George von Bergen) polished front, together with their constantly keeping one eye on the women, presented a Dad’s Army-cum-Blackadder Goes Forth pastiche of military incompetence – a visual precursor of Belcore’s ultimate misfortune, perhaps.

What really made this performance was the singing. The frivolity of the story was brought out by a relatively youthful cast, who injected great energy into their roles. The Opera Holland Park Chorus, besides the slick dance moves, produced a terrific sound – tidy, well-balanced, and expressive. Sarah Tynan, here making an impressive debut for Opera Holland Park, produced a sparkling sound across the board, and her voice, if slightly lacking in dramatic force, was full of nuanced expression. Her counterpart, Aldo di Toro, proved his worth: his full-bodied tenor came out of the closet at all the right moments, but I am sure that most would agree that a particular highlight – and for Tynan too – was the duet “Esulti pur la barbara”, in which both showed considerable vocal gusto. Von Bergen produced a sophisticated sound as Belcore, and Dolton’s Dulcamara was simply superb: hilariously funny, and a delightful sound to boot. The surprise star of the show was, however, Rosalind Coad as Giannetta, whose soprano was radiant and whose dramatic performance was commanding.

Unfortunately, the City of London Sinfonia did not quite match the quality of the singing – perhaps it was a case of first-night fright, but Stephen Higgins’ tempi verged on the careful side; where they were faster, the sense of cohesion was not always there. Indeed, at one point early on in the opera, he seemed to be beating frantically towards the percussion, who had become seriously out-of-step with the main body of the orchestra. It is a pity that the orchestra did not quite match up to its usual standard.

Nonetheless, L’elisir at Opera Holland Park is a good production, and one which has come at just the right time for those jaded by the heat who would like a fun evening out without needing to put effort into trying to enjoy it. The enjoyment is brought to you by an all-round fabulous cast.