September 8, 2015 / 6:08 PM / 5 years ago

"Elixir" from La Monnaie: Donizetti "soap opera" at the circus

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - “Wanted: world-class soprano - must look good in bikini; dashing baritone to sing aria while taking off trousers.”

La Monnaie opera may have worded their casting call for “L’Elisir d’Amore” rather differently but their version of Donizetti’s evergreen comedy of love, lust and money brings an steamy extension of summer at the beach to autumnal Brussels.

Adapting Damiano Michieletto’s original Valencia production to the Belgian capital’s Cirque Royal, audiences can expect an immersive experience when it opens on Tuesday.

Played in the round, on sand under the big top, it offers the added risk of being doused by a flailing hose or a shower of foamy bubbles: this is 1830s bel canto “soap opera” in more ways than one.

Donizetti’s flighty landowner Adina becomes the sultry landlady of a Mediterranean beach bar, the lovelorn peasant Nemorino is now a deckchair attendant and the comic chorus of “rustics” are an unappetising tribe of sun-worshippers, agog for Belcore, the coastguard captain, and Dulcamara, charlatan vendor of the “love potion”, who peddles baggies and wonder drinks from a jeep.

The circus’s wide spectrum of viewing angles — a result of La Monnaie’s season-long odyssey of venues while its theatre at the old Brussels mint is renovated — challenges the focus of some of the duets that define the piece. The soaring empty space above threatens at times to swallow the voices.

But the production rests on fine singing — young Italian tenor Antonio Poli’s “Una furtiva lagrima” grabs the real emotion beneath the pantomime — and tight playing by an on-stage, in-costume orchestra under the baton of Thomas Roesner, playfully resplendent in his bright red “Lifeguard” T-shirt.

The evening is a reminder of how Michieletto, fresh from his Covent Garden debut with “William Tell”, can entertain audiences with a contemporary reading of the classics.

Alternate casts perform on successive nights: Russians Olga Peretyatko, due in “Rigoletto” at the New York Met, and Dmitry Korchak sing Adina and Nemorino, relieved by Belgian soprano Anne-Catherine Gillet, a prima donna in swimwear, and Poli, soon to be seen in “The Magic Flute” at Venice’s La Fenice.

As bombastic lothario Belcore, Greek baritone Aris Argiris alternates with Argentinian Armando Noguera, delivering a boastful first aria that makes unusual demands: remove the trousers, replace with swimming trunks, sing throughout - and all the while hold a beach towel in place to preserve modesty.

Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; @macdonaldrtr

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