Review – L’elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love) – Opera Up Close at King’s Head Theater

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I wasn’t planning to go to this, given that I am not an opera fan, but a last minute invitation from my husband and £10 tickets sealed the deal – if it was bad I could always leave at the interval, right? The posters looked quite cute, with their 1950s/60s Hollywood feel, and I do like classical music – though 19th century is not really my bag (I’m a Baroque girl). I was treated to a half pint (it is at the King’s Head after all) and in I went.

Walking into the theater, I was amused by the cute backdrop, with a swimming pool painted on it (the actors leaned against a floating mattress as if they were “in” the pool, while standing up) and cheap fake flowers making a technicolor budget set. Then our performers came on – two women in 50s bathing suits and cute sunglasses and three men – and BANG BANG they were singing. (Saying this I’m suddenly reminded of the scene where Adina is chasing her would be lover around with a water pistol – what a laugh!) The first ten minutes or so, though, I was desperate to find things to enjoy, because even though the performers were singing in English, everyone was going at the same time and I had a sudden feeling of DOOM DOOM DOOM I am never going to be able to follow a damned thing in this show! They were smiling, posing, making lovely music, but I just couldn’t get the context for what was going on and I was immensely frustrated.

Then “Nemorino” (I thought of him as “little Nemo”) , the pool boy, started singing about his love for Adina and, if I’m not mistaken, Adina’s friend was singing about what a terrible flirt Adina was. And … well, all of a sudden I was able to follow along with the story: Nemo wants Adina to love him, but Adina’s thing is to just be a flirt and stay free. The other, more rugged man at the poolside (he was supposed to be in the army but looked like Cary Grant so I wasn’t buying it) asks Adina to marry him, and she agrees, just to egg him on … but it seems, a little bit, so that she can also torture Nemo.

And then, well, the game was on. I loved having people come and sing, as if to me personally, from about three bodies away; and the lyrics were just so funny and modern: Adina claimed to be heartless like a “prom queen” and at some point I heard someone called a “cheeky monkey.” Normally with opera, well, of course it’s in a foreign language so you can’t really catch any jokes, but then when you do see it in English it’s some entirely bloodless translation that your granny would be sure to approve of. This was none of that: it was lively and sharp and really WORTH listening to, even better than Gilbert and Sullivan because it was all from an era that I’ve lived through (though I think the writer misunderstand the socioeconomic class inherent in “Pasadena” – it is not a place where bums come from!). I was sorry when I couldn’t hear what the singers on the other side of the stage were saying, because the audience on that side was laughing and I was missing out! Nice job, Thomas Eccleshare, you made me regret not buying the program so I could catch the jokes I missed.

After the interval, I came back to one of the most clever lighting effects I’d ever seen – clearly love was in the air! And the act raced along with several unexpected plot twists, but, of course, a happy ending, and it was all done within about two hours of its start. So much cleverness and wit for a mere ten quid at a preview (£21 after AND RESERVED SEATS)? What a stinking deal! And, let’s be honest, the singers were really good, the kind of talent people in London don’t realize we’re lucky to have. My final thoughts? Opera Up Close have got a hit on their hands!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, February 5th, 2013. It continues through March 16th.)

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