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Review: L'elisir d'amore at Liverpool Empire ****

It’s been a long time – 40 years to be exact – since Glyndebourne last performed live opera in Liverpool.

So this three-day visit to the Empire as part of a UK tour is a welcome return to the city stage, and part of a wider coordinated plan to present more performances for opera lovers in the region; a plan that is shared by other leading UK companies like the WNO and Scottish Opera.

The company, with award-winning 25-year-old Ben Glassberg conducting in the pit, opened its brief stay by bringing the sunny delight that is Donizetti’s comic souffle L’elisir d’amore - essentially the love potion - to a wintery November afternoon.

The plot centres around the flirtatious Adina and her two suitors – the credulous lovelorn bumpkin Nemorino and the strutting soldier Belcore (think ‘Allo ‘Allo’s Captain Bertorelli only taller), along with a snake oil salesman and a Tristan and Isolde-style bottle of potion guaranteed to make anyone who drinks it irresistible to the woman they love.

Handsomely staged on Liverpool designer Lez Brotherston’s sharply raked, angled oblong shaped slice of 1940s small-town Italy, director Annabel Arden’s production is a diverting, gossamer light confection, silkily sung by a company led by a collection of bright young soloists.

Above: Benedetta Torre (Adina), Misha Kiria (Dr Dulcamara) and Maxime Nourissat (the doctor's assistant).

Top: Benedetta Torre and Sehoon Moon (Nemorino). Photos by Donald Cooper.

Benedetta Torre is making her Glyndebourne debut, but it’s not her first Adina – she sang the role in her home city Genoa two years ago. Clad in Katherine Hepburn swing trousers, she brings a mixture of languid coolness and charming vivacity to the stage along with a buoyant soprano tone with warmth throughout her register and lovely effortless phrasing.

Sehoon Moon presents Nemorino as a lovestruck innocent – his honest earnestness just about keeping the character on the right side of persistent stalker.

Moon is the owner of a very pleasing, rounded and smooth tenor voice and a sensitive, nuanced delivery, most notably in a measured and lyrical performance of Nemorino’s Act 2 aria Una furtiva lagrima.

Meanwhile there’s a delicious comedic double act in Misha Kiria’s travelling quack Dr Dulcamara (reminiscent of Sweeney Todd’s somewhat more oily Pirelli) and Maxime Nourissat as his assistant, a riot of harlequin trousers, extravagant moustache, mime and cross-dressing – although one saucy sheet-covered scene might have prompted winces from the teachers sitting with a number of school groups attending the performance.

Several hundred youngsters, who have been working with Glyndebourne’s education outreach team over a number of weeks, were in the audience for this opening performance. And one hopes their impeccable behaviour was the result of being enchanted by and engaged with what was unfolding on stage.

Catch Handel’s Rinaldo tomorrow and Verdi’s Rigoletto on Saturday.

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