Vancouver Opera's L’Elisir d’Amore is a beautifully sung concoction to cure what ails you

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      By Gaetano Donizetti. A Vancouver Opera production. At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Sunday, January 21. Continues January 25 and 27

      Vancouver Opera’s L’Elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love) is as fun as the old-fashioned ice-cream truck that rolls onto the stage at the opening, honking its klaxon. But don’t be fooled: there is serious singing across the board in this production.

      The bel canto comedy demands vocal agility, soaring range, and, sometimes, sheer mind-blowing speed from its performers. But mostly it just needs beautiful singing.

      This, despite the silly farce of the plot. In Gaetano Donizetti’s 1832 opera, the poor Nemorino pines for the unrequited love of the rich and independent Adina. Here, the action moves to pre–First World War Canada, the action bathed in golden light around a turn-of-the-last-century bandstand that looks straight out of The Music Man.

      Nemorino drives that ice-cream truck; Adina is the town librarian. When the farcically arrogant Sgt. Belcore comes to town recruiting soldiers, he starts aggressively wooing Adina. So the desperate Nemorino decides to buy a love potion from a travelling salesman, Dulcamara. No matter that the concoction is really just cheap wine: in one of this production’s funniest scenes, a turn of events sends every woman in town after Nemorino—and even the huckster Dulcamara expresses shock that his elixir might have magical powers.

      This rendition emphasizes the playful side of Donizetti and his librettist Felice Romani, barely digging into the issues of class or looming warfare here. (If you like opera that’s challenging and out-of-the-box—well, the fall’s Turandot might have been more your thing.)

      Brenna Corner, directing after James Robinson’s Canadian Opera Company version of last year, works lots of physical business into the comedy. She’s got an eye for fun details, whether it’s Brett Polegato’s Belcore blithely downing an entire pie while doling out advice to Nemorino, or Andrew Haji's hammered Nemorino bending a straw, just so, into an impromptu booze-elixir-spiked ice-cream soda.

      But mostly, VO’s version highlights the music. Haji creates a hugely sympathetic, naive Nemorino, and his famous second-act aria—“Una furtiva lagrima”, the one almost everyone’s come to hear—is fittingly unshowy. Punctuated by its unlikely bassoon, it’s unrushed, beautifully modulated, and vulnerable, as mellifluous as it is moving.

      As for Adina, Ying Fang pulls off some flawless coloratura here, her satiny soprano soaring strainlessly to the heights of her two-octave range and earning a strong peppering of “Brava!”s from the crowd.

      Stephen Hegedus brings charismatic wiliness to the con artist Dulcamara.
      Tim Matheson

      The two leads are matched by the show’s key baritones. Polegato brings hilarious swagger to his Blackadder-ish ass Belcore, and bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus nails the comic patter and brings a charismatic wiliness to his purple-suited, vintage-motorcycle-driving con artist, Dulcamara. There can’t be a weak link among them when they leap into the lightning-speed back-and-forth, overlapping duos and trios with Haji and Fang.

      Maestro Jonathan Darlington sets it all running at a good clip, finding every way to support the singing, helping to polish it into the shiny ornament that it is. And the chorus does more than just provide vocal colour, it actively builds the comedy as part of a lively, picnic-and-market-happy community.

      The love-drunk L’Elisir d’Amore may not shake your foundations or change the world. But it is definitely a fizzy, gorgeously sung elixir for any January blues you might be facing.