|Pretty Yende and Liparit Avetisyan|
It would not be difficult to imagine that The Other Half and I were jinxed in our relationship with the Royal Opera House. On our first visit in early 2015 was to see Der fliegende Holländer, but Bryn Terfl was ill. In which case, we had the chance to be introduced to Latvian bass-baritone Egils Silins, who had flown in from Hamburg to take the lead.
Just over a year later, it was Tannhäuser and Peter Seiffert unable to continue for the final act, giving heldentenor Neal Cooper the chance to step in with minutes to go and do an amazing job.
Yesterday’s first performance of a revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore gave us the much-anticipated opportunity to see South African soprano Pretty Yende’s house debut, but it also brought the chance to see Liparit Avetisyan instead of Rolando Villazón, who had had to withdraw for medical reasons.
But this proved to be a massive bonus. The Armenian has mostly been seen in serious roles, but he took the chance in London to turn in a wonderfully funny performance as the naive Nemorino, who is besotted with beautiful landowner, Adina.
Written in 1832 – in 14 days, according to myth, but probably in more like six weeks – it’s a light piece with a surprisingly satisfying underlying discourse about what love really means.
Nemorino adores Adina. She has no time for him and appears more interested in the swaggering Sergeant Belcore.
When visiting quack Dulcamara brings his wares to the small, rural village, Nemorino leaps at the hope that the same magic elixir that made Isolde love Tristan will resolve his little matter of the heart.
Set in a rural Italy of the 1950s, with tractors, a scurrying dog, cycles and plenty of physical humour, it works well, sending up the crassness of advertising and the gullibility of those who buy the spurious claims of adverts.
The music is charming throughout – and in Nemorino’s late Una furtive lagrima, gives us one of Donizetti’s finest moments, delivered here quite superbly by Avetisyan in only his second appearance at the Royal Opera House.
Yende is a delight as Adina, the character's casual capriciousness halted in its tracks when things stop going the way she expects. She has a soprano that soars with ease to hit some beautiful high notes, and great charm and warmth on stage.
The leads made a wonderful pair and were leant strong support all round – particularly from Paolo Bordogna and Alex Esposito as Belcore and Dulcamara respectively.
The chorus – such an important part of this piece – is wonderful, although the appearance of chorus master William Spaulding for the curtains is odd, especially as he seems to be directing them to turn into stiff mannequins.
Fortunately, in the pit, Bertrand de Billy directs the orchestra with a light touch that perfectly suits such a delightful score.
As the applause suggested at the end, this was no missing-performers jinx: this was a night when the audience could say that it had seen not one, but two new stars shine brightly on the stage at Covent Garden.