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Waterperry Opera Festival 2021 – Review: The Elixir of Love

Waterperry Opera Festival’s L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love) went out with a bang on Tuesday with its final performance of Donizetti’s opera buffa. Sung in English and performed by a youthful, zippy cast, it was a joy for those of us who were so very grateful to be enjoying a “normal” night of opera, complete with picnic and fireworks, all set within the magical, historic Waterperry Gardens in Oxfordshire.

Here is a guest review by Jarod David Smith.

Thando Mjandana, Waterperry Opera Festival 2021

Thando Mjandana in Waterperry Opera Festival’s The Elixir of Love.  (Image: W Perry, Waterperry Opera Festival)

Love is in the Air at Waterperry Opera Festival

With a pop of (my) champagne, and a shot of spirulina (more on that later) I settled into the final performance of Waterperry Opera Festival’s effervescent production of L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love). It’s a riotous rom-com of an opera by the oft undervalued composer Gaetano Donizetti, with a plot that twists and turns with funny stage business and confused heroes and heroines.

Waterperry’s version of Donizetti’s masterpiece is set in 1950s America, just before the onset of the Korean War. Amidst kaleidoscopic pathways, long views and hidden corners sits Waterperry’s handsome country house, both a backdrop and an integral part of the set.

Female powerhouse, Adina (Alison Langer) owns a spa, complete with a twenty first century menu which includes pilates and yes, spirulina. I didn’t warm to the British-Irish soprano during Act 1 and found her manner brusque and her singing a little colourless.  But as the evening wore on, she blossomed.  Perhaps the direction was to present her as a scheming, reserved individual who slowly peels back the layers to reveal an instrument that is at once warm, honey-coloured and, as is necessary for Donizetti, flexible.  Her trills and ornamentations became effortless in this most difficult of roles, and yours truly came away hoping to hear more of her – but in dramatic soprano roles, or perhaps even weightier Bellini ones.

Now, let’s move on to our love-struck, suffering hero, Nemorino, sung by Thando Mjandana. And oh, what a treat.  With a timbre and tone similar to Juan Diego Florez, it is my bet that we have not heard the last of this South African-born tenor.  His voice has an outstanding lyric tenor ring to it, and I can easily imagine him singing many a Mozart role.  His warmth and enthusiasm for singing and being on the stage was a joy to see. Mjandana’s una furtiva lagrima – that audition warhorse for many a lyric tenor – was sung delicately, honestly and with just the right amount of nectar.

Waterperry Opera Festival 2021

Darwin Prakash and Oskar McCarthy (Image: W Perry, Waterperry Opera Festival)

Like a bat out of hell, Sergeant Belcore (Darwin Prakash) va va vooms onto the scene, another gent who, with a rich baritone capable of shaking the nearby pampas grass, scrambles for Adina’s hand.  He presents a Tom Cruise characterisation and immediately has the ladies onstage in a swoon.  Prakash’s voice is a wonderful contrast to that of Nemorino: big, brash and pure macho.

Other notables include Oskar McCarthy as quack doctor, Dulcamara, he with an elixir that promises wrinkle-free skin, youthfulness, vitality, and that most modern of maladies: erectile dysfunction. McCarthy plays this character up to full effect, weaving in and out of the auditorium as if we too were looking to buy one of his miracle potions.  A physical actor and singer, McCarthy brings a cup runneth over with his humour and with just the right amount of greed and duplicitousness.

Danielle Sicari, Waterperry

Daniella Sicari is flanked by the The Waterperry Chorus (Image: W Perry, Waterperry Opera Festival)

Daniella Sicari as the spa manager Giannetta gives a polished performance with a clean line, a pure white sounding voice up the scale and a stage presence which belies her years.  Her stature as singer-actress and physical performer is a little lost in the role of Gianetta, even if her warmth and lovely metallic toned voice rang well above the orchestra. I look forward to seeing her in a deservingly more prominent role. You can still catch Sicari in Ariel until this Saturday, a solo performance which is highly recommended by Londoness.

The chorus is superbly supported by Waterperry’s own orchestra and under the baton of Music Director Bertie Baigent.  He coaxed, waxed and pulled a glorious, almost period sound out of his much-reduced orchestra. The sound was grand for such an intimate setting, and what it perhaps lacked in ‘ooomph’ it more than made up for by a committed reading with dedicated players, each intensely stacked behind Baigent.

Waterperry Gardens

A richly romantic setting for an opera festival, Waterperry offers up all of its facilities, including the formal gardens, to its audience members on performance nights.  Drinks in the maze?  Why not?  Appetizers in the Alpine Gardens?  Sure!  Dinner by the Water Lily Canal – the list goes on.  It is obvious this estate is proud of its gardens and wants to put them on display and we, dear people, are all the better for it.

Tickets for next year’s festival will go on sale in Spring 2022. Subscribe to the Waterperry newsletter for more information.

Waterperry Opera Festival | Website | Waterperry, Oxford OX33 1LA

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