The set is built from corrugated iron dotted with sheep and when love-sick Nemorino sets eyes on Adina he declares “She’s a corker”.  Previous productions of Donizetti’s 1832 opera The Elixir of Love have been set in the wild west or at the beach but now it has arrived in the outback.

Rachelle Durkin as Adina and Aldo di Toro as Nemorino

Simon Phillips’ popular 2001 production has finally made it to Perth and it bubbles with the laugh-out-loud immediacy of a musical. The West Australian Opera’s revival by Cathy Dadd features a starry cast led by Rachelle Durkin as station owner Adina and Aldo di Toro as the local shearer Nemorino. Set designer Michael Scott-Mitchell’s corrugated red hills, windmill and vibrant blue sky are brightly lit by Nick Schlieper while Gabriela Tylesova’s frocks, suits and hats (dusted with ochre colours) place the action in pre-World War One.

Marco Nistico is Dr Dulcamara

Dr Dulcamara (a pompous Marco Nistico) arrives as the Rawleigh’s Ready Relief man and the love potion he sells the gullible Nemorino is a bottle of Coca-Cola, apparently introduced to Australia around this time. With new confidence Nemorino pretends to ignore Adina, who responds cattily that his love for her will “stick like a dag to a sheep”.

Sergeant Belcore (a gallant Jose Carbo) arrives with troops and almost convinces Adina to marry him despite a groin strain as he goes on bended knee. The resourceful set converts to a cow shed for the wedding scene between Adina and Belcore and then a chook house where the farm girls  cluck over Nemorino’s windfall inheritance. Nemorino can’t believe the rapid effectiveness of the potion as the girls suddenly clamour for his attention, led by a hilariously over the top Jennifer Barrington as Giannetta.

Filled with hope Nemorino sings his big showstopper A Furtive Tear. On opening night the dreamy-eyed and big hearted di Toro delivered a spacious, simple and achingly sweet aria. It was the icing on the cake of a career-highlight performance where di Toro’s Nemorino won over the audience even as he was shunned by Adina, stealing hearts with his mix of stumbling shyness and boyish exuberance.

Durkin, reprising the role with di Toro for the third time, gave the most multi-hued performance I’ve seen from her. Her strawberries and cream coloratura was marvellously expressive and after her robust flirtations the sotto voce timidity with which she declared her true feelings for Nemorino were breath taking.

It was one of many moments where the opera cut through the clanging clichés and ribald humour and went straight to the heart. An energetic chorus under new head of music Thomas Johnson and a tight sparkling WA Symphony Orchestra under Stuart Stratford completed the picture. The Elixir is the second sensational theatre season this year from a company which appears to be thriving under director Brad Cohen. Whatever the magic potion is I hope WA Opera can keep it coming.

This review copyright The West Australian 2016.