The COC rather boldly claims this Elixir as a “new production” – although stage director James Robinson has already mounted it in San Francisco, Boston, Denver, Kansas City, St. Louis, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and other places. Originally placed in “Anytown U.S.A.” in the early 20th century, the Toronto production shifts it north, to small-town Ontario, draping Red Ensigns on the gazebo that dominates the set. It’s a transformation that works quite well, bringing the audience closer, in time and space, to the action.
First among equals in this cast is Simone Osborne, as Adina. This lyric soprano has this bel canto thing down to tee, with a vocal delivery that’s stylish yet natural. A little trill, a touch of portamento, a slightly sustained high note, and a florid passage are the tools of her trade – and she uses them with discretion to excellent effect. I could listen to her all day. Dramatically, she seems to have no trouble inhabiting the role of an ingenue who is charming and caring, but slightly pretentious in a way that’s a barrier to knowing her own heart.
Opposite her is Andrew Hajji, as Nemorino – costumed in this production as an ice-cream vendor. His tenor voice is as appealing as the ice-cream he sells, even as he bemoans his lovelorn fate. His “Una furtiva lagrima,” was fluid and impressively introspective – ending with a soft touch that was all about resignation. (A different kind of ending might have milked the audience for more applause, but Hajji's approach was in keeping with his character.)
By the way, both Osborne and Hajji are alumni of the COC’s Ensemble Studio program – and their accomplished performances were a compelling demonstration of that program’s success in nurturing Canadian talent.
As Dr. Dulcamara, Andrew Shore was anything but introspective. Dressed in clownish purple and orange, he arrives on a broken-down motorbike and injects a blast of comedic energy into the show. He had a pronounced wobble in his rich baritone voice; I’m not sure whether it was a “character thing” or not – but it seemed fitting for a grandiose charlatan. And when he did his “Senator Three-Teeth” routine in a duet with Osborne (a little play-within-a-play), he sang his part with the wackiest voice I’ve ever heard in the Four Seasons Centre. Completing the principals, bass-baritone Gordon Bitner (another COC Ensemble Studio alumnus) was an imposing Sergeant Belcore with an imposing voice to match.
As director, Robinson made no great demands on his cast, and strove for no strange or willful directorial interventions – a choice that resulted in a pleasantly unforced, naturalistic staging. In the pit, maestro Yves Abel was in total rapport with his singers, while keeping the COC Orchestra on its toes, for a deft and nimble performance of Donizetti’s score.
So what was there not to love? Quibblers may quibble about some small inconsistencies in the updated staging – but as far as I’m concerned, this is a delicious Elixir in a fresh new bottle.
© Colin Eatock 2017