Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore – presented by Cape Town Opera- 2022 touring production  

Favolosa is the Italian word for ‘fantastic’ and Cape Town Opera’s production of Gaetano Donizetti’s madcap comedic opera, L’elisir d’amore, is fabulous. The production has been on tour, throughout regions in South Africa. The last stop is in Cape Town, on stage at Theatre On The Bay. It is on tonight – October 15 and tomorrow- October 16 and then that’s it. Try and get tickets – it is a wow. If not, get to a CTO production, soon.

The company is in fine form and is constantly innovating its repertoire – presenting ‘traditional’ classical opera and mashing and shape shifting in terms of production approaches as with L’elisir d’amore (the love elixir/potion). For this production, there is what is termed, a ‘piano reduction’. There is no orchestra. Musical director and pianist, José Dias sits on stage and is with the company on each note. Every pause he takes – they are cued in -and he is to them. At times, the performers cluster around the piano and interact with him and the piano. This injects the opera with a sense of intimacy – that we are watching the narrative unfurl in a speakeasy or pub.

The energy, sassiness, talent is breathtaking. The entire cast is terrific and so is the chorus which is more like a theatrical ensemble-spectacular. Puerto Rican tenor Juan Hernández is brilliant as Nemorino, the nebbish who gets his woman in the end. His singing and acting is breathtaking as he immerses himself in the character and not only delivers on the technical side but conjures up a vivid performance of this man who is willing to do anything for love.  The make-up love scene with Brittany Smith (playing Adina) is poignant and moving after the hilarity in this madcap production. 

Director Magdalene Minnaar has created a magical production – heightening the whacky comedy but also conceptually – imbuing it with nuance – the clash between working class and Adina (Brittany Smith) who is a landowner and rather buttoned up and her suitors. Conroy Scott as Doctor Dulcamara is, as Minnaar mentioned at a launch event for the opera, a mix of  Einstein and Sherlock Holmes. He rocks it as the sleaze potion supplier, peddling his wares in travel size units. Nemorino, wobbling on his bike is like “a delivery boy from Takealot”, as Minnaar put it at the launch – love it. Fiona Du Plooy as movement director, tempers each move and gesture. The choreography has been inspired by Pina Bausch.

Zany set and costumes -fabulous – by Rabia Davids and Maritha Visagie. They have used colour blocking – orange for harvest and so on and surrealist clouds – drifting in and out. The two male squeezes -Nemorino and Belcore (Van Wyk Venter) are dressed in clothes which are a few sizes smaller (intentionally). Hideous get ups. Totally awful – too tight pants, cardigans etc. They are kind of clowns, next to Brittany Smith’ conservative Adina.

The chorus is magnificent. Watch the bar scene and then it almost becomes a pool party, if you know what I mean.  Watch the buffet scene and the delicious props. The surtitle box (English) – terrific translations – movie style – not every word is translated which provides space to focus on the opera. If you think opera is ‘old fashioned’, you need to re think that and get to see Cape Town Opera productions. Wonderful to see the company on stage at Theatre on the Bay. More please. Bravo.

Love doctor: L’elisir d’amore – presented by Cape Town Opera- 2022 touring production. Pic: Kim Stevens.  

✳ Images by Kim Stevens. Supplied.