|Sarah Moulton Faux and Aaron Blankfield|
Amore Opera has found an excellent new home at the Sheen Center on Bleeker St. The small theater has a pit allowing the singers to project over the orchestra and is just the right size to permit a feeling of intimacy. We are gratified that they have chosen Gaetano Donizetti to honor this season with one staple of the repertory and one rarely produced opera. Last night we had the pleasure of experiencing L’Elisir d’Amore up close and personal; next week we are looking forward to Poliuto, a drama about the 3rd century martyr.
Donizetti is a melodist par excellence and he lavished his 1832 masterpiece L’Elisir d’Amore with a profusion of tunes that gladden the heart and touch the soul. Happily, his librettist Felice Romano adapted Augustin Eugène Scribe’s Le Philtre, a charming story with lovable characters. The setting is a small Italian village and the time has been updated to the early 20th c., which neither added new insights nor detracted from the story. (We have been terribly distressed by productions updated to the 20th c. because they just didn’t make sense.)
The production has been triple-cast and we very much enjoyed the cast we heard. We were quite impressed by Aaron Blankfield's performance as the timid lovesick Nemorino. Not only did he exhibit a fine sweet tenor but he appeared to be drawing from someplace deep inside to create a most believable character whose ultimate success at love we wished to happen. His “Una furtiva lagrima”, introduced by the most legato bassoon solo we have ever heard, was the epitome of soulfulness.
As Adina, the wealthy and educated landowner (here the owner of a bookshop), soprano Sarah Moulton Faux graced the stage with her beauty of form and voice. There was a bit of difficulty at the start getting the middle register to sail over the orchestra but that passed quickly and her brilliance with the coloratura passages was pure delight.
Baritone Gustavo Morales made an appropriately arrogant Sergeant Belcore, a rather ridiculous figure but ultimately a good-hearted chap and a gracious loser in the battle for Adina’s love.
As the traveling con man Dr. Dulcamara, we enjoyed the veteran performer Gary Giardina who really knows how to create a character. He arrived in high style and was accompanied by two lovely female assistants, Adrienne Chu and Angela Joy, whose antics were choreographed by Cara Chapman.
Merrin Lazyan sang the role of Giannetta while Marlene Williams filled several small roles. The chorus added greatly to the proceedings, especially the bumbling soldiers that did nothing to destroy the reputation carried by the Italian military. The children’s chorus fulfilled the adorable quotient.
Fine things happen when production personnel have experience in opera. In this case, Stage Director (also Artistic Director) Nathan Hull and Conductor Daniele Tirilli both have backgrounds as opera singers and this clearly informed their performance of their tasks.
Maestro Tirilli’s conducting created plenty of room for the singers and Mr. Hull’s direction introduced lots of clever and original stage business that did not make the singers uncomfortable. (The Metropolitan Opera would do well to follow his example.) One touch we really liked was in the first scene when Nemorino is expressing his feelings for Adina; the action on stage froze as he enacted his fantasy of dancing with Adina. This little twist was most touching. Another moment we cherished was the fumbling when Belcore is obliged to present Adina with flowers.
Richard Cerullo's Scenic Design was simple but effective with a painted backdrop and two opposing shops between which was the village square, crowded with villagers. Simple costumes by Ghislaine Sabiti seemed appropriate to the early 20th c.
But the most important thing for us was the singing and the lovely connection between Nemorino and Adina. We were delighted that he overcame his faint heart and won the fair lady.
(c) meche kroop