Simon Phillips is the creative brain behind this production of The Elixir of Love, restaged for our Auckland and Wellington seasons by director Matthew Barclay. In this abridged article from our programme book, Simon explains how a 19th century Italian opera came to be set in the Antipodean countryside during World War One.
The Elixir of Love falls into that territory which mixes classic opera buffa with a more sentimental lyricism, so you have to establish a tone which allows both styles to co-exist. Unless the director wishes to fly deliberately in the face of the libretto, a rural setting seems unavoidable and indeed one of sufficient naivety to believe in the spiel of a snake-oil merchant. (Mind you, I toyed briefly with the idea of late night television infomercials).
Furthermore, the society and era needs to accommodate army recruitment. The presence of soldiers basically dictated one of the two world wars. I went for the first, partly because of the required naivety of the community, and because I became interested in a couple of interesting social phenomena associated with that era.
If somewhere at the heart of Nemorino’s story lies the exploitation of the naïve and trusting by the opportunistic (the quack Dulcamara) and self-serving (the officer Belcore), it seemed appropriate that the opera be set on the brink of Antipodean exploitation by two imperialist superpowers, Britain and America.
Thus Belcore is an English officer, leading his local recruits off to that ultimate colonial exploitation, so richly captured in Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli. Dulcamara on the other hand brings with him what has become the ultimate symbol of capitalist colonisation: fortuitously it was just before World War 1 that Coca Cola™ was introduced to this part of the world.
So this is the context into which the design team and I have thrown The Elixir of Love. It’s bright, it’s bucolic, and hopefully, despite the tone of this note, it’ll be a barrel of laughs.