World War I rages in Europe while one of the most tune-filled of all love stories takes place in the fields, barns and hen-houses of a small Australian outback town. This is the premise for Simon Phillips' stylish take on Italian composer Donizetti's The Elixir of Love, wittily re-staged for Opera New Zealand by Matthew Barclay.

The pathway to love isn't so smooth for Adina and Nemorino, played by our own Amina Edris and Pene Pati. They duet while he shears his corrugated iron sheep and she grooms her metallic steed; we smile at the couple's deft carry-on, all the time transported by their glorious singing.

Edris is a forthright heroine, reaching her lyrical peak in Act II, giving love and freedom to her bumbling beau. Pati, born for the beauties of bel canto, spins an effortless Una Furtiva Lagrima against the cool greens and blues of Michael Scott-Mitchell's corrugated iron set.

Not surprisingly, with his Sol3 Mio background, Pati is a natural clown. Throughout the evening, the rustic vernacular of the surtitles, from "She's an absolute corker" to "Yumbo scrumbo," provokes constant chuckling then a roar of laughter, when Pati looks up to check exactly what Morgan Pearse's Belcore is singing, through his mouthful of food.

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The Australian baritone plays the strutting English sergeant well, his spry and nimble voice matching his fast-paced comedy turns. Conal Coad's Dulcamara is a persuasive and portly purveyor of potions, inevitably the focal point of many a frisky ensemble, with a seemingly limitless repertoire of stage business. Praise too for Natasha Wilson, such a delicious gold-digger in her Act II aria.

This is first-class entertainment and revelations of its many theatrical coups would come under the category of spoilers. But you won't be surprised by the wonderful Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, delivering elegant waltzes, galops and romantic spellbinders under the expert baton of Wyn Davies, or the particularly lively and full-voiced chorus.

Lowdown
What: The Elixir of Love
Where & when: ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre; performances Saturday, Thursday and Saturday, June 9
Reviewed by: William Dart