An under-achieving small-town bumpkin, a beautiful and educated young woman, a visiting quack doctor, and a blustery recruiting officer. A small village in the middle of a rural landscape, a collection of townspeople and farmers. Gorgeous tunes, lovely duets, uproarious comedy. The Music Man? Oklahoma!? No, it's the delicious comic opera by Donizetti, The Elixir of Love.
Several years ago, I was asked to create a production of this Donizetti masterpiece for a consortium of American opera companies in San Francisco, Boston, Denver and elsewhere. The goal was to take a fresh look at the piece and gently transport it to a slightly more recent time and place. Elixir has always been my favourite Italian comedy, and it certainly didn't need to be ripped from its original time and place only to be thrust into the glare of the modern world. But one thing I have always found with this operatic charmer is that the lack of specificity—time, place, characterization, situation—made it seem to many opera goers, unfortunately, as a mere confection, a meringue italienne.
So taking a page from the playbook of the classic American musical, my colleagues and I decided to place this opera in what we would call Anytown, USA circa 1914. Along the way, we tweaked the production to reflect some regional flavours—a hint of early Napa Valley for San Francisco, a slightly more frontier town feel for Denver, a touch of New England for Boston, etc.
When the Canadian Opera Company asked me to bring this production of The Elixir of Love to Toronto, we all thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to make it more specific to this province. So from Anytown, USA we travel to Anytown, Ontario. The goal, as has always been with this production, is to infuse the story with some local colour while preserving all of its original charm. Fortunately for me, looking back with a bit of nostalgia at Southern Ontario on the eve of World War One has been a rich and exciting journey.
Banner: Andrew Haji and Simone Osborne in The Elixir of Love (COC, 2017), photo: Michael Cooper