site search by freefind advanced

 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Kennet Opera - The Elixir of Love

11th to 15th November 2003.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Just what the doctor ordered

Kennet Opera: The Elixir of Love, at The Corn Exchange, from Tuesday, November 11 to Saturday, November 15

For its 10th anniversary production, Kennet Opera took Donizetti's comic opera L'Elislr d'Amore (sung in English), and moved the action to the oh-so-fashionable 1950s. Thus, Adina owns the village café (not a farm), lovesick Nemorino is a waiter, and there are plenty of excuses for pedal pushers, loafers and swirly skirts.

For an amateur company to stage opera is daunting; top notes are unforgiving even for professionals. Of the principals, tenor Mark van Ments as Nemorino was the only singer brought in from outside the ranks of Kennet Opera; an early roughness to the voice smoothed out as he sang himself into the role. Soprano Gaylene Parish always turns in a classy performance; as Adina she was smart and sparky, though showing the occasional weakness in the top register. It was good to see John Milford of Swindon Opera again, his rich baritone and confident stage manner an asset as Sgt. Belcore. Their trio at the end of act 1, and the duet between Dulcamara and Adina at the beginning of act 2, were highlights.

Bass Stephen Bennett as the swaggering 'quack' Dr Dulcamara, relished his part. Clad in black leather, he arrived, entirely fittingly, on a Vespa. Soprano Fred Garner (Giannetta) spelled youth, energy and life for the taking. As Dulcamara's gum-chewing, bottle-blonde moll, Mary Swait gave a peach of a performance. In skin-tight trousers and scarlet high heels, their stash concealed in her cleavage, she was sexy, knowing and bored rigid by her partner in crime.

One of the very best things about Kennet Opera is that these are real ensemble productions. The spotlight is on the principals, but the chorus is an integral part of every production, never a mere add-on. They sang strongly and acted well, with plenty of 'business' and movement. Each member, including the children, inhabited a recognisable character; they were never static onlookers.

A cleverly-designed set featured red and white gingham-covered tables set in front of a village bar; the façade of a recognisably Italian church; a fountain whose surround was integral to movement in the production; and walls covered with '50s Italian film posters. Intelligently lit, the set converted beautifully for the night scene.

This was an assured production from director Janet Bennett, with fine support from musical director Nic Cope and pianists Oliver Williams and Susanna Proudfoot.

As so often with opera, of course, you do have to suspend judgement. Having 'knocked back' the devoted Nemorino, just a short time later Adina is promising to marry Belcore (one glimpse of a uniform - and Nemorino's affected indifference - and she's his).

A few hours and a 'furtive tear' later she's saved Nemorino from the army and is declaring her undying love for him (well, his unexpected fortune may have helped). Or perhaps it really was the love potion Dulcamara sold him that did the trick...