In a year that has seen funding in the arts cut across the board, it has become increasingly difficult to justify the £26 million annual Arts Council grant awarded to the Royal Opera House. It hosts, by far, the UK’s leading opera and ballet companies and challenges on the global stage in being the world’s best. Should the Arts Council be giving so much to one institution, albeit a fantastic one, when so many other London opera and theatre companies are struggling? (I would also like to point out that far and above the funding that ROH receives compared to its London counterparts, theatre outside of London is woefully unsupported by funding also.) Funding cuts like these explain why ENO’s production of Orfeo, scheduled to come to the Bristol Old Vic in 2015, has been cancelled, and why the company has decided to mount musicals (and in Sweeney Todd’s case a thrifty semi-staged version as well). Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore is certainly a crowd pleaser, and a safe bet for full houses and thoroughly entertained audiences. And with opera greats such as Bryn Terfel and Vittorio Grigolo on the billing, although not cheap, it definitely helps in drawing a crowd and ascertaining a great show.
This is the third time, since its debut in 2007, that this production of L’elisir has been revived by ROH, so popular it has been. And quite right too, it is a charming production. The updated setting, to a small farming village in the American mid-west in the 50s, works extremely well. Most attractive is the simple but inspired set and the beguiling lighting of designer Joël Adam. The chorus work on show also is delightful; some lovely singing and ‘hammed up’ acting, but all in good fun.
Vittorio Grigolo as Nemorino is magnificent in the role, a true tenor masterclass. His singing was effortless but ever so captivating – it flows from him so naturally and beautifully. He also does well as the tantrum teenager and sulky lover, and the chemistry between him and co-star Lucy Crowe, as Adina, is palpable. At times Crowe’s sweet voice is overpowered by the orchestra, so vibrant and alive their playing, but her performance is so charismatic and ultimately wins through. Bryn Terfel as the devilish Dulcamara is as always a commanding stage presence, and a joy to see perform. Levente Molnár, as Nemorino’s rival, Belcore, does very well also, a rich bass to match this stellar cast.
This production succeeds fully in delivering a wonderfully enjoyable evening; the beautiful singing on show, with the world’s best performers, is something only available at ROH. It is fighting the corner for truly world-class opera – a highly skilled art form, taking years and years of work to master. L’elisir may be a crowd pleaser but it is also artistically brilliant, confirming, in my mind, the need for its continued Arts Council support.
L’elisir d’amore plays the Royal Opera House until 9 December. For more information and tickets, see the Royal Opera House website. Photo by Mark Douet.