Donizetti’s comic opera classic receives an invigorating new English-language production at the King’s Head Theatre, Islington. A co-production of King’s Head and Cardiff’s Opera’r Ddraig, The Elixir of Love swaps the original 19th-century Basque village setting for 1980s-era Barry Island, the Welsh seaside resort famed as a backdrop for the television show Gavin and Stacey. This production shares that show’s wry humour, and benefits from a witty English translation, a judiciously condensed plot with a pared-down cast of five and smart direction from Hannah Noone.
There have been Italian immigrants to Wales since the 18th century, bringing with them traditions such as espresso, ice cream and Italian cafes such as Adina’s, where the opera opens. Amanda Mascarenhas’ evocative set comes complete with 1980s costumes and big hair.
Adina (a sparkling Alys Roberts), the cafe’s proprietor, is adored by Nicky (David Powton, who is sincere in the role but vocally slightly underpowered). Nicky’s tongue-tied anxiety makes him unable to express his passion. The reappearance of Adina’s old flame, the self-important military man Brandon (the excellent Themba Mvula) sets the plot in motion when he persuades her to marry him before he is shipped out to fight in the Falklands War.
A despondent Nicky is a ready target for the smooth talk of snake-oil salesman Dulcamara – a terrific full-throttle performance by Matthew Kellett – who shows up with a case full of potions that can conjure up the ‘swagger of Jagger’ or a love elixir to make the hapless Nicky irresistible to Adina. The English translation is at its best in Dulcamara’s sales-pitch aria and might be the missing link between opera buffa and a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song.
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