If Donizetti and Felice Romani could come back to life and see Japanese TV, they would be surprised to see that Dr. Dulcamara’s lines have more or less the same text of 75% of ads showed in this country: miracle formulas that make you young, beautiful, attractive if you just pay a very reasonable price – and the taste is always eccellente. Maybe for that reason, the New National Theatre decided that L’Elisir d’Amore should be staged in days closers to our own. As Cesare Lievi’s 2010 production is highly stylized, it is difficult to be precise – 1940’s? 1950’s? What is clear is that the approach looks very much like the kind of production of comedy plays one would find in Italian theatres in the 1980’s, 1990’s: the concept is rather a matter of design than of meaning; costumes and sets are clever yet simple, everybody seems to be having the time of their lives and a well-rehearsed cast move about, jump, gesticulate a lot in variations of the theme of “cuteness”. Here the recipe works well, if one overlooks the fact that costume designer Marina Luxardo decided to employ every shade in the Pantone catalog (even in the wig department). Also, the sets turning around the letters L-E-I-S-D-A-M-O-R (the ones in the original Italian title) and gigantic “Tristan and Isolde” books do not seem to be trying to make any particular point other their immediate relation to the storyline.
Julien Salemkour proved to have good instincts for bel canto. Although a smoother orchestral sound would have made all the difference in the world, the conductor could keep everything clear, ebullient and consequent, choosing his tempi from what makes sense structurally rather than from the mere intent of making everything fast and bright.
Nicole Cabell is a puzzle yet to be solved: her light velvety soprano is homogeneous, flexible and easy on the ear, but seriously lacking projection; she has clear diction, very good Italian and can sing really musicianly, but cheats whenever things get difficult for her. Adina is a role on the high side for her voice and she would often run out steam in tricky passages. For instance, although Prendi, per me sei libero was sensitively and beautifully sung, the cabaletta involved a great deal of adaptation. All in all, it was a congenial if superficial performance, but I do not really believe this is her repertoire. I wonder what is her repertoire – Mozart? Maybe, but that is not the kind of music one can get away with make-do.The second soprano, Kanae Kushima, showed a more typically bright Italianate soprano and, in spite of a very light voice, could be more easily heard in ensembles. Tenor Antonino Siragusa too has a voice of reduced substance, but still very spontaneous, easy and pleasant. He sings with amazing clarity and cleanliness of line and makes very good use of the text. He could have offered a tad more mellifluous Una furtiva lagrima, but that did not make his light, uncomplicated and funny performance less attractive. Hiroyuki Narita has a forceful baritone and tackles his divisions better than most, but he is often rough-toned in voice and faceless in interpretation. Renato Girolami is quite economical with buffo disfiguring “comic” effects and has both the personality and voice for his role. Finally, the house chorus deserves praise for both their singing and acting.