Friday 19 January 2018

Classical: Donizetti's elixir checks in to work its potent opera magic

Love story: Composer Mario Donizetti's opera involves romance and a comic turn.
Love story: Composer Mario Donizetti's opera involves romance and a comic turn.

George Hamilton

I wish I could say I was there. But with no team from Lombardy in the Champions League this season, there was no way I was going to be making my way home from my opening assignment through Malpensa, the major airport of Milan.

Which is a pity, for I missed a trick. The evening after that match night in September, I could have been part of an opera. Terminal One in Malpensa was the stage.

Picture the scene. You're all set for wherever. Home after a business trip maybe, or preparing for the long haul overnight.

You check in the bags, pitch up at the bar in departures, and next thing they're announcing, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the performance is about to begin.

"Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore. Please welcome, directed by maestro Fabio Luisi, the Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala Milan."

It was the idea of the chief executive of the famed opera house, where Donizetti's melodrama was about to begin a four-week run, to take it out to the airport.

Audience participation is at the heart of the mission of Alexander Pereira.

He had done something similar when in charge of Zürich's Opera House, presenting Verdi's La Traviata in the main railway station of Switzerland's biggest city.

It's not just the audience of passengers he's taken by surprise at Malpensa.

It's an audience he can attract with his unusual presentation, for, like the venture in Zürich, this production was made for television too.

The story is the perfect vehicle for what Pereira is attempting to achieve. It's a rural tale, set in the Basque Country.

Nemorino (the hero, the tenor) has no social status at all. He's a peasant, but he's fallen for the lady in the big house.

There's no chance she might reciprocate, so he opts to spend all he has on a love potion, the elixir of the title, to make her fall for him.

And, by way of various twists and turns - this is a comic opera after all - it works, and the story has a happy ending.

It's easy to buy into, the tunes are good, so the audience is onside. And delivered in bite-sized chunks, with TV presentation in between, following the action is no problem either.

The full orchestra is in the terminal.

The singers move from location to location. Street theatre by another name.

It's mesmerising to watch the performance as the travelling public gather around with the mundane minutiae of a modern airport - the food court, the check-in desks - as a backdrop.

The shock of the location certainly casts the performance into relief. For me, it's spellbinding. Maybe not for the opera purist, but as a show, it's stunning.

The opera's stand-out song, 'Una Furtiva Lagrima' ('A Furtive Tear') - the moment Nemorino realises the love potion he's bought has actually worked - is sung as, dressed in flight crew uniform, he goes through security.

Presenting his holdall for inspection, he delivers the line "Che più cercando io vo?" - which literally translates as "What more searching do I need to do?"

A clever touch in an immaculate presentation, which may not be to the taste of every serious opera lover, but which certainly hits the spot in terms of what La Scala's director intended to do.

You can see it for yourself (in Italian and French) on Arte, the Franco-German cultural channel. L'Elisir d'Amore at the airport will be available online at until St Patrick's Day.

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