The Elixir of Love (Blackheath Halls) 18 July


Blame me, not my Nokia!

This year’s Blackheath Community Opera show was almost certainly better than I’m going to give it credit for, but I was in the wrong place and (to an extent) at the wrong time as well.

As the low-quality picture above shows, the main seating was along the long side of the hall, opposite the orchestra, and the performance was quite naturally directed there on the whole.  I started off quite near the ‘wrong’ end of one of the short sides (from where the picture was taken) and then budged up to the end so that a group of…non-traditional opera goers…could sit together.  No good deed goes unpunished, and they spent a lot of the first half in whispered exchanges, humming along, and passing round sweets in a crackly bag.  (I moved to another seat for the second act.)

Photo from whatsonstage

The action was set in England during WWII–specifically in 1941 I think–and why I don’t know.  It led to some necessarily drab costumes, when drabness is the enemy of opera.  As adapted here, Nemorino signs up for 30 s to pay for a further bottle of elixir from Dulcamare, when surely he would have been conscripted anyway?  And the in-the-round presentation led to some of the usual loss of concentration–in particular, Adina shed her furtive tear(s) when Nemorino was nowhere around to see it, and then some time later he appeared on an empty stage to sing about it.  It all sounds better in Italian, and works better if the characters are Italian.

The performances were good or very good or better.  The amateur Blackheath Halls Orchestra were both sound and sprightly under Nicholas Jenkins, and the woodwind were an awful lot more reliable than in ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’ last year.  The chorus (and accompanying children) were commendably lively, though the chorus was a little mushy on a few occasions.

Among the singers, Elena Xanthoudakis as Adina had all the notes and spotted her coloratura very nicely.  Her tone did become a little shrieky at times, and there were many occasions when I couldn’t understand her words (even when she was facing in my direction, which didn’t happen often).  I really liked Nick Sherratt as Nemorino–he had the true tenor ring and I could understand his words, which was especially commendable when he was engaging in competitive exercise with the Belcore of Grant Doyle (who was fine).  Sherratt also put over the naive enthusiasm and boyish vulnerability of Nemorino, while Xanthoudakis was certainly acting something intensely, I’m just not sure what.  I think that Robert Poulton could have made rather more of Dulcamara (entering and exiting on a bicycle, as seems to have become the norm)–that role really should be an open goal–while Helen Bailey’s Giannetta looked to have had the life drained from her by a grey dress of quite indescribable drabness.

Anyway, well done Blackheath Community Opera and we look forward to next year!

As for the wrong time–it was the afternoon performance, there were children (not all entirely silent) in the audience as well as on stage…

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