Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Melodramma giocoso in two acts. Paris Opera production.
Despite the baritone Ludovic Tézier’s sore throat, which forced the opera house to station a substitute singer in shirtsleeves at the stage left proscenium arch with a lighted music stand and score for the second act — Tézier mimed his part with great energy — this is a sure-paced, well sung, well staged production of an old crowd-pleaser. And it pleased this crowd greatly too, including me.
The first act setting featured multiple bales of hay with more of them in perspective at a distance; this is farmland, presumably Italy, circa 1950s. And the second act featured more bales of hay left and right, divided by a platform for dancing, resting on four ersatz bales of hay. The second scene of the first act was the end of a bar at the edge of town, with a road running through it diagonally upstage, giving Doctor Dulcamara, the genial, resourceful quack doctor, room and generous space to arrive in his great big delivery truck, with sides that open up top and bottom to reveal the interior, full of bottles of his famous elixir.
So, an updating of Donizetti’s 1832 instant success. Finally, I think it doesn’t matter very much what period you assign it to. It has all the time-tested elements of the love-lorn suitor, the smart-ass military man who makes a temporary play for the heroine (Adina, Aleksandra Korgok) but is called away to duty elsewhere — but not before he complicates the plot by insisting on marrying Adina that very night. True love wins out; as Gilbert’s Mikado (which I have just finished playing, in the local Valley Light Opera production) puts it: “Virtue is triumphant only in theatrical performances.”
It was the usual packed house, in Covent Garden’s brilliant, spectacular auditorium, a broad wonder of red plush and yellow gilt. It’s something of a thrill just riding up the escalator to the Amphitheater, where seats are a mere £39.00, though obscenely expensive lower down in the house. From there (M 33, M 34) we had a clear view, not only of the entire stage — sightlines are quite excellent — but also of the slips on either side, the upper slips being for standing only. One had a momentary vision of impecunious students who love — or need to learn to love — the opera enough to stand there through a three-hour presentation of an admittedly lively and musically various opera. I wonder if those slips will be all taken for Parsifal, which opens on Thursday, December 6, at 5:00 in the afternoon?