Sparkling comic opera charms

REVIEW / CONCERT

DONIZETTI'S L'ELISIR D'AMORE

Singapore Lyric Opera

Esplanade Theatre/Last Friday

It was a bold move by the Singapore Lyric Opera (SLO) to mount a production outside of the usual canon of Verdi and Puccini operas.

Although Gaetano Donizetti's L'Elisir D'Amore (The Elixir Of Love) is not unfamiliar (it was last produced here by New Opera Singapore in 2012), the opening night of the Italian bel canto classic was unfortunately greeted by a house with many empty seats.

This new production, directed by veteran Tom Hawkes, was a light and sparkling affair true to the spirit of the comic opera.

Its plot was simple. Village simpleton Nemorino (sung by Malaysian tenor Kee Loi Seng, reprising the same role in 2012) is enamoured of the confident and well-heeled Adina (Australian soprano Elena Xanthoudakis) and thinks the elixir peddled by the smarmy quack Dulcamara (Singaporean baritone Martin Ng) will work wonders.

The contemporary setting at a seaside resort resembling Miami's South Beach was a nice touch with Justin Hill's atmospheric set, populated by the incessant vivacity of the SLO Chorus and Children's Choir in Moe Kassim's pleasing costumes. It all made for a very satisfying background for the farce.

A large part of its charm may be how a woman of Adina's stature comes to choose between unlikely suitors such as the hangdog Nemorino and vainglorious military man Belcore (Korean baritone Song Kee Chang).

But true love does these things to people and Xanthoudakis' Adina was both a sympathetic and vulnerable portrayal.

The chemistry between her and the always-cowed Nemorino was somewhat uneasy even at the opera's happy end.

Kee had his moments, not least in the hit aria Una Furtiva Lagrima, which rang bright and clear. He was also the centre of comedy when besieged by all the women after downing a second bottle of bordeaux.

Coming close to stealing the show was Ng's Dulcamara, whose mountebank manners and outrageous swagger (accompanied by a bevy of blonde nurses no less) made him one of the most pleasant "villains" around.

Also significant was a role of mezzo-soprano Jade Tan as the knowing Giannetta, a not-so-innocent high-society girl, in a memorable SLO debut.

The SLO Orchestra conducted by Joshua Kangming Tan was generally excellent from the opening Prelude and all through the ensemble work, sensitive enough not to overwhelm the singers.

Repetiteur Aloysius Foong ably provided piano accompaniment, while Yap Zi Qi's bassoon and Eilidh McRae's harp did the honours for Nemorino's hit aria.

Despite decreased annual funding, the SLO still puts on a good show albeit once a year.

Can one hope for next year's ambitious offering of Verdi's Aida to be no less of a hit?

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2017, with the headline 'Sparkling comic opera charms'. Print Edition | Subscribe