REVIEW: OperaUpClose, Worthing

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We spent a most entertaining and intriguing evening at Worthing’s Connaught Theatre, with Donizetti’s wonderful 19th century comic opera “L’Elisir D’Amore” being given a face-lift by award-winning company OperaUpClose.

The Elixir of Love is a timeless tale of a love potion, being consumed here by the “underdog” Nemorino (Philip Lee), to woo his beloved Adina (Prudence Sanders) away from the overbearing Belcore (Richard Immerglueck).

Brought forward into the 1950’s from Italy to Hollywood, the transformation also included Valentina Ceschi’s brand-new version of Thomas Eccleshare’s English libretto. An innovative orchestration by John Gibbons, well-respected here as Principal Conductor of the Worthing Symphony Orchestra, featured Frances Higgs (viola), Sarah Douglas (clarinet) and himself on piano. The musicians remained on stage throughout, adding immediacy to their exquisite playing, especially in Act 2 where we could both see and hear them more clearly.

The scene is set in the colourful garden of Adina’s Hollywood mansion, where the film star and her friend Gianetta (Eleanor Ross) disport themselves on sunbeds and swimming pool, with drinks table close at hand. A clever touch was the turquoise “pool” being placed vertically against a wall, complete with attached yellow Li-Lo against which the girls could be observed leaning languorously. Poolman/gardener and would-be scriptwriter Nemorino is discomfited by the arrival of Belcore bearing ice-creams for the girls and boasting about his conquests both amorous and military. Belcore clearly regards Adina as a possible trophy wife, a fact that comes home to her later on, after she had promised to marry him.....

Great excitement ensues when her stylist, “Dr” Dulcamara appears on the scene, his salesman’s briefcase bulging with lotions and potions. He gleefully wanders around the audience, proffering hair-restorer to the baldies and creams to the wrinklies! Alistair Sutherland played the part to perfection, eventually offering Nemorino his “ magic” elixir (in reality a simple gin fizz, unlike the real thing as in Tristan and Isolde!)

During the interval, ushers handed out 3D specs with which we enjoyed experimenting outdoors, street- and car-lights becoming seemingly festooned with magic hearts! In Act 2, night having fallen, the flowers acquired fairy lights, again enhanced with hearts. Nemorino becomes emboldened by the delayed effects of the “elixir”, and eventually manages to persuade Adina that his love, unlike his rival’s, is everlasting. He had noticed a small teardrop in her eye, when in his excitement and newly-gained riches, he had been surrounded by the company. He sang the beautiful melting aria Una Furtiva Lagrima with great eloquence, and all ended happily ever after.

OperaUpClose evidently lives up to its name, and with the intimacy of its cast, musicians and venues, provides first class production, acting, singing and playing to audiences who may not have otherwise considered going to opera. Other quality, stylish productions include La Boheme, The Barber of Seville, Tosca and La Traviata, mainly based in Islington, London. For further details contact www.kingsheadtheatre.com

Marilyn Dennis