This gently remodelled and reverentially paced revival of Laurent Pelly's 2007 production is not a vintage night at the opera. Slightly corked more like.
Pelly's cosy Cath Kidston faux-50s perspective is not a patch on Jonathan Miller's edgier ENO production for wit, warmth and vitality. And what Pelly hasn't sucked out, Bruno Campanella's connoisseurly savouring of every last note drained down to the dregs. Luckily, this is the best cast it's had so far, and the superb individual performances make it a show worth seeing.
Ambrogio Maestri, generous of voice and girth, larger-than-life in every possible respect, was ideally cast as Dulcamara. Campanella's funereal pace tested Maestri's comic timing but couldn't quite destroy it; in compensation the lack of speed permitted word and note perfect patter.
Aleksandra Kurzak was her reliably adorably pert self, whipping through her pearly coloratura with such exquisite clarity you could forgive the hint of strain now becoming apparent on her highest notes.
For Roberto Alagna, the strain is more than a hint these days. His voice is no longer the reliable servant it was. Where he doesn't subtly remodel the line to accommodate his shortened range, he seems content to leave everything above an A to chance - statistically about 50/50 I'd guess. As Nemorino, this was less of a problem than it might be in some other roles, and he only came truly unstuck once all night. I'm not sure his Italianate styling was historically correct, but who cares - it was tasteful and musical and his experience in heavier roles provided heroic colour here and there.
Alagna took risks physically too, flinging hay bales around, rolling on the floor with the ladies of the chorus, even flashing his underpants. Well, it would be a shame if no-one could appreciate the evident effort he puts into those freshly-chiselled abs.
Rounding off the cast were Fabio Capitanucci, who sang elegantly in the thankless role of Belcore, and Susana Gaspar, who, despite being announced as ill before the performance, made a perfect Giannetta.
And not to forget the real star of the show, Alfie the Jack Russell terrier, whose two entirely inappropriate appearances lend a surreal edge that I wish Pelly had explored further.
If you're thinking of booking, don't forget there may still be some discounted stalls seats available.
production photos (above) - Catherine Ashmore/Royal Opera House
curtain call photos (below) - intermezzo.typepad.com
And, courtesy of Kyoko, here's the curtain call: