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One of the world’s best-loved operas returns to Brussels in the context of La Monnaie’s Extra Muros programme. Gaetano Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore was first staged at the capital’s opera house in 1840, only several years after its world premiere in Milan. It’s been a fan favourite ever since.
This reprise isn’t staged at La Monnaie, however, but at Cirque Royal. With the historic opera house shuttered for renovations until 2016, the organisation is outsourcing its season.
Composed by Donizetti with a libretto by Felice Romani, L’Elisir d’Amore is perhaps the quintessential 19th-century opera buffa. The plot hinges on a love triangle between the peasant Nemorino, his landlady Adina and her suitor Sergeant Belcore. Throw in a faux love potion peddled by the snake-oil salesman Dr Dulcamara, and hilarity ensues. This is no tragedy: Despite many twists of fate, everyone lives happily ever after.
Donizetti was a rare talent. Considered innovative in his day, the prolific Italian composer transcended novelty. His masterworks might have been in danger of becoming passé with the advent of the avant-garde; instead, they became canon.
That’s not to say there’s no room for a bit of updating on the margins. For this new production, Italian director Damiano Michieletto has transposed the action from the Basque countryside of yesteryear to a retro-tinged but contemporary Mediterranean resort. The costumes and sets are inspired by American TV series The Love Boat. Nemorino is now a lifeguard, Adina a bikini-clad pin-up girl and Belcore a sailor.
The diversity of the creative team testifies to the opera’s enduring popularity across Europe. La Monnaie has assembled an international cast, including young Viennese conductor Thomas Rösner and Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko, who shares the role of Adina with Belgian counterpart Anne-Catherine Gillet. (In Italian with Dutch and French surtitles)