Romance is a common theme of many operatic works, with one of the most famous and beloved examples being Gaetano Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love (L’elisir d’amore).
Featuring a beautiful woman, a bullying soldier and a shy guy in love with the woman but scared of the soldier, the work has enjoyed many creative stagings, traditional as well as modern.
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The Canadian Opera Company present its own version, beginning Wednesday, with American director James Robinson placing the action in early 20th-century Niagara-on-the-Lake. The cast features COC Ensemble Studio graduates Simone Osborne, Andrew Haji and Gordon Bintner in the leads.
“He’s not making Belcore (another of Adina’s suitors) a total buffoon or Nemorino a lovesick puppy or Adina a mean girl, which is much more interesting to me,” Osbourne says.
Having won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2008, Osborne went on to be a member of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio from 2009 to 2012.
She has performed the role of Pamina in The Magic Flute with Pacific Opera Victoria, Marguerite Riel in the COC’s Louis Riel and, with husband Gordon Bintner (who sings the role of Belcore), is currently living in Frankfurt.
This past summer, the couple, along with Haji and his fiancée, shared an apartment when the men performed in Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia at the Salzburg Festival. Osborne says the experience cemented a friendship that extends to the stage.
“We can bounce ideas off one another and create a coherent sort of relationship between each of the characters, because we really do understand where the other person is coming from.”
Haji wants you to know one thing about Nemorino: he’s no pushover.
“He’s not a wet rag like a lot of lot of productions tend to make him,” the tenor says. “I think he’s a bit stronger than that.”
A graduate of the COC Ensemble Studio (he was a member from 2013 to 2016), Haji has performed with the company as Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata, Tamino in Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Gabriel Dumont in Louis Riel. He also performed in Ireland in Wexford Festival Opera’s Herculanum by Félicien David.
After performing as Nemorino in Toronto, he’ll do it again with Vancouver Opera in early 2018.
Haji says comparisons between his performance and that of other singers (namely Luciano Pavarotti, who named Nemorino one of his favourite roles) is inevitable.
“You have to listen to what other people have done, as a sort of baseline,” he says, “but in the end you can’t just regurgitate a performance you saw another famous singer do. I mean sure, there are going to be certain expectations, but in the end you have to base it on who you are rather than what you’ve seen other people do.”
According to Bintner, L’elisir d’amore is an opera with a little bit of everything, in terms of character as well as music. “You have these long, flowing phrases, then you have sections which are quite detached and talky, and then you have the heroic phrases.”
The baritone, who joined the company of Oper Frankfurt last season, has performed his share of heroes and anti-heroes; he’s sung Figaro in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro with Manitoba Opera), Lescaut in Massenet’s Manon and the title role in Mozart’s Don Giovanni (both with Opéra de Montréal).
He says the role of Belcore in L’elisir needs to be approached as more than a stereotype and credits director Robinson for encouraging him to “go for the realistic threat that he poses, as opposed to just playing it as this goofy guy.”
Working with Haji and Osborne makes rehearsals “easy and familiar and, you know, fun because there’s a level of comfort there to be yourself.”
Equally, singing Donizetti has “been a joy. I really feel like I’ve discovered parts of my voice I never knew existed.”
The Elixir of Love is at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts Oct. 11 to Nov. 4. See coc.ca or call 416-363-8231.