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Review: Nápoj Lásky: Sensual Italian opera

In his famously lascivious novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover, English storyteller D.H. Lawrence wrote: "Italians are not passionate: passion has deep reserves. They are easily moved and often affectionate, but they rarely have any abiding passions of any sort." In Lawrence's book, when Lady Chatterley goes to Venice she finds adorable, yet frivolous men.
It can be said that the works of Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti are the opera world's equivalent of Lawrence's wildly gesticulating Venetians: predictable, buoyant, and concerned far more with sensual pleasure than with profound thought.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. The Slovak National Theatre Company is currently performing one of Donizetti's works, Nápoj Lásky (The Elixir of Love), a rendition which proves that performances full of sensual pleasure and short on thinking can still make for a lovely evening.


Adriana Kohútková and Peter Mikuláš as Adina and the quack doctor.
photo: K. Marenčinová

Nápoj Lásky (The Elixir of Love)

By: Gaetano Donizetti
Where:Slovenské Narodné Divadlo (Slovak National Theatre)
Tickets:50 to 200 SK
Next Perfomance: June 22 at 19:00
Rating:8 out of 10

In his famously lascivious novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover, English storyteller D.H. Lawrence wrote: "Italians are not passionate: passion has deep reserves. They are easily moved and often affectionate, but they rarely have any abiding passions of any sort." In Lawrence's book, when Lady Chatterley goes to Venice she finds adorable, yet frivolous men.

It can be said that the works of Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti are the opera world's equivalent of Lawrence's wildly gesticulating Venetians: predictable, buoyant, and concerned far more with sensual pleasure than with profound thought.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. The Slovak National Theatre Company is currently performing one of Donizetti's works, Nápoj Lásky (The Elixir of Love), a rendition which proves that performances full of sensual pleasure and short on thinking can still make for a lovely evening.

The curtain lifts on Adina, the most beautiful girl in a small Italian seacoast village. Stage left stands Nemorino, an ineffectual country boy who loves Adina but who cowers in her presence. Adina is openly cynical of romance, but in Nemorino's case appears irritated that he has not made a deliberate move. Enter brash Army Sergeant Belcore who seizes the day and heart of Adina. Grief-stricken, Nemorino buys a 'love potion' (actually a flask of Bordeaux wine) from an itinerant quack. Emboldened by the elixir's supposed power, and a bit tipsy as well, Nemorino falls into mirthful song and dance - in the process forgetting all about his love, who hastily accepts a marriage proposal from Belcore.

As a composer Donizetti's strength was keeping, in his words, "a closer, more direct conjunction" with the drama. The score for Nápoj Lásky is an airy masterpiece that intermingles seamlessly with the dialogue. The melodies are graceful and digestible and the tone is unremittingly optimistic.

Adriana Kohútková as Adina performs Donizetti's best scores. In the last scene, during an extended aria, she hits notes that resonate like a mallet stroke to the spine. One doesn't know whether to shriek or applaud.

Otokar Klein (as Nemorino) also has a lofty voice, pulling off the opera's only real heart-tugger, a mournful ballad 'Una furtiva lagrima' (A furtive tear) sung at moonlight when Nemorino thinks Adina will be married in the morning. The only problem is that Klein, clearly a full-grown man, comes off a little silly as Nemorino. In scenes with the captain he looks more like his twin than his naive junior.

In the end, everything falls into place. Adina and Nemorino finally fall in love, leading the townspeople to believe that the love potion actually worked. The doctor becomes rich; even Sergeant Belcore accepts his defeat with the grace of a violin's strain.

Who's to say whether true passion has depth, or whether good art needs to provoke thought. Surely Nápoj Lásky satisfies neither. Think of it more as a two or three hour reminder that life can be an enjoyable event.

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Topic: Tourism and travel in Slovakia


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