We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Saturday, December 12, 2015


Eunjin Jung, Kidon Choi, Pavel Sulyandziga, Sara Papini, Matthew Cossack

L'Elisir d'Amore is the perfect opera for a young cast. Gaetano Donizetti filled it to the brim with memorable melodies; librettist Felice Romani peopled it with characters that embody all the struggles of young love. Nemorino is a shy fellow in love with the vivacious and fickle Adina. She treats him dismissively as the young tend to do with those who put them on a pedestal.

To make him jealous she agrees to wed an arrogant army officer. In desperation, he buys a love potion from the traveling "doctor" Dulcamara. The potion is just Bordeaux and he gets very tipsy.  Meanwhile, the young ladies of the town learn that he has inherited a great deal of money and surround him with attention. He believes it's because of the love potion. Now it's Adina's turn to get jealous.

Of course, it all works out in the end and we leave the theater grinning from ear to ear.  The Mannes Opera gave Donizetti's 1832 comic masterpiece (which Donizetti tossed off in six weeks) a fine production at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. This just happens to be a fine comfortable theater with great sight lines but there is something strange about it's bi-level orchestra pit.

The strings are just a bit lower than the audience, with the winds behind and a level below that. Artistic Director and Conductor Maestro Joseph Colaneri conducted The Mannes Orchestra which turned in a well-balanced performance. The strings lay down a luscious carpet of sound with important contributions from the winds, particularly in Nemorino's big aria "Una furtiva lagrima", marked by some lovely arpeggios on the harp (Elena Caramihai).

The singers are all graduate level students at Mannes School of Music, which is part of The New School. Each and every one turned in a stellar performance and seems headed for a fine future in the opera world. The lead couple--soprano Sara Papini as Adina and tenor Pavel Sulyandziga as Nemorino--were perfectly cast and completely convincing in their acting. Adina is spunky and full of personality; Nemorino is shy and unassuming. Their body language told a great deal about their characters.

Similarly, the outrageous character of Dr. Dulcamara was well portrayed by bass-baritone Kidon Choi who manifested no difficulty with the wide range. As the self-important Belcore, baritone Matthew Cossack was admirable. Eunjin Jung was a pert Giannetta.

The direction of Laura Alley kept things moving forward nicely with plenty of appropriate stage business. Costume Designer Helen E. Rodgers duplicated the fashions of the 50's quite accurately, even dressing Adina in a poodle skirt. But, may we ask, how does setting this opera in the 1950's make it more relevant? We wondered how many people in the audience were alive 60 years ago!

Instead of a wealthy landowner, Adina is now the proprietor of a pasticceria in Little Italy. Roger Hanna's painted set, representing a street corner, was so accurate that we recognized the locale! We are convinced he copied Caffé Roma on Broome St. (If we are wrong we will atone by eating a dozen sfogliatelle!)

The chorus sings about sitting in the shade near a stream!  Other references in the libretto have been mistranslated to allow for Dr. Dulcamara to be driving a "snazzy car". We could justify the presence of military personnel because the time period coincided with the Korean war. But how do we account for Sergeant Belcore carrying around enlistment papers in his pocket and paying cash to Nemorino to enlist? We suppose most people would just overlook these anachronisms but they do bother us, purists as we are. But they didn't bother us enough to spoil the fun.

Mr. Sulyandziga's "Una furtiva lagrima" was delivered with his hands in his pockets, every nuance coming strictly from his voice. Never have we ever wanted so much to see a guy get the girl!

(c) meche kroop

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