Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love, King’s Head Theatre

Entertaining, Witty and Fun

The King’s Head Theatre’s and Opera’r Ddraig’s  innovative production of  Gaetona Donizetti’s comic opera L’ Elixir  D’Amore is a brilliant introduction to opera. They succeed in making opera accessible to a wider range of people, not just because it is in English, but because they have cleverly adapted and transposed it to Barry Island in the 1980s, just at the start of the Falklands War. Congratulations to Chris Harris and David Eaton who have rewritten the lyrics in English to encompass contemporary colloquialisms, including appropriately used swear words. It is inspired and bold to avoid translating the original, and it works. Harris and Eaton’s libretto make the opera more realistic, witty and is side splittingly funny. They cleverly retain most of plot in Donizetti’s opera. The stripped back presentation has all the main characters, performed by an amazingly talented cast who make it seem effortless and appear to be enjoying it as much as the audience. How delightful!

As a comic opera it doesn’t take itself too seriously, which reflects Donizetti’s original- yes I have watched the original and it compares very favourably. Now I am not an opera buff, but I have sung in choirs since I was a child and have continued to do so as an adult, singing a wide range of material from classical to gospel, show tunes to pop. So I am fussy about vocals. The standard of singing and acting is extremely high by Opera’r Ddraig. And I love the intimacy of the small stage, which means you can see the artists’ breath control rippling through them from their diaphragms and through their bodies. They also sing unaided, there are no mics, no chorus, just the accompaniment of a pianist, so there is no where to hide and no need to do so. The whole cast’s diction is so excellent you can hear all the words clearly and the tones of their voices are full.  How marvellous.

Opera’r Ddraig’s The Elixir of Love is set in a café on Barry Island where Adina played by Alys Robert works as the staff/owner of a café.  Robert has a wonderful clean Soprano voice. As Adina she is both pragmatic and romantic, who is  in love with being in love. She expects to be swept away in a tidal wave of passion and wants to have fun too. Adina takes the self-conscious and shy  Nicky, played by Tenor David Powton, for granted. Nicky has been desperately in love with Adina for years,  but lacks self confidence and self worth. He has tried but doesn’t have the courage to tell her or try to woo her. When he finally declares himself she knocks him back. Powton is a true Tenor hitting the top notes easily and clearly, which is gorgeous in the English version of “Una Furtiva Lagrima.”

The Elixir of Love (c) Bill Knight. From left to right_ David Powton
David Powton as Nicky

Themba Mvula is the swaggering, arrogant and rather dashing Captain Brandon who assumes that Adina is his. Initially Adina sees through Brandon, he is so full of himself, she soon seems to convince herself that she is in love with him when he proposes.  He persuades her to accept, pushing the recently declared Falklands War to his advantage. Mvula is ideal as Brandon who he plays for laughs and easily convinces us that this handsome man is a conceited prick. He has a rich Baritone voice which is showcased in our introduction to him in Act 1, which is a reinterpretation of “Come Paride Vezzoso” where he boasts about how handsome and desirable he is that Adina cannot resist him. Harris and Eaton’s libretto includes the line “my body is as glorious as my flirting is notorious.”It is very funny, especially as Adina sees through him and with Nicky’s bitter and cutting asides.

The Elixir of Love (c) Bill Knight. From left to right_ Alys Roberts, Themba Mvula, Caroline Taylor
Alys Roberts as Adina, Themba Mvula as Brandon and Caroline Taylor as Gina

Dr Dulcamara, played by Matthew Kellett, is a con artist, one of those snake oil salesmen who sells piss and cheap alcohol as a cure-all for every affliction. Kellett is a fantastic baritone with a great range. Kellett’s Dulcamara is a lovable rogue, even though the audience know he is a fraud. Harris and Eaton’s rewrite of Dulcamara’s aria “Udite, Udite, o Rustici” in Act one is intelligent and fun. In this version Dulcamara is advertising himself and his wares to Nicky. It is a very wordy and quick witted song, which must be tricky to sing, but Kellett is unctuous, oozing out his patter, like the oily salesmen he is, demonstrating his gift of the gab. Harris and Eaton’s lyrics make references to pop culture, whilst remaining true to the original libretto ,how smart are they?  Dulcamara brags about how the effect of his “cures” on someone’s swagger made him walk like Jagger. This is a knowing wink by the librettists to the hit pop song, as well as revealing Dulcamara’s personality, whilst being really humorous. Dr Dulcamara styles it out with great panache, which continues in his duet with Nicky, in which he persuades Nicky to buy his Elixir of Love to win Adina’s love. It is hilarious. If you want to know more, get a ticket for the show.

The Elixir of Love (c) Bill Knight. From left to right_ Matthew Kellett (1)
Matthew Kellett as Dulcamara

The Elixir of Love is charming, endearing, entertaining and fun. The team of writers, directors and  production team are clever as they make it relatable and very funny, which is only possible because of the  superb performances from the small but perfectly performed cast. So what are you waiting for? Go and see it,  you will be full of admiration for the cast’s beautiful renditions and full of  aching stomach muscles due to the witty lyrics.

All photos by Bill Knight.

The Elixir of Love is at King’s Head Theatre 25 September to 26 October 2019


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