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, July 13, 2013


Yunnie Park and James Knight (photo by Jen Joyce Davis)
We must have drunk the love potion ourselves, having fallen completely in love with the Prelude to Performance production of L'Elisir d'Amore.  This is arguably (or inarguably) Donizetti's most famous opera and a wonderful "beginner's opera".  Number 12 on the list of most frequently performed operas, Donizetti is said to have composed it in an astonishing month's time!  Felice Romani wrote the charming libretto, based on Le Philtre, a play by Eugene Scribe . Significantly, Donizetti himself escaped serving in the Austrian military when a wealthy woman purchased his military service.  (Recall that before Il Risorgimento, large parts of Italy were ruled by the Austrians.)   The opera premiered in Milan in 1832 and seems never to have left the repertory.

The story is a straightforward one.  Nemorino is a simple fellow in love with Adina, an educated landowner.  His opening aria "Quanto è bella, quanto è cara!" illuminates his devotion to her.  It takes two acts to win her over and, when he does, his famous aria "Una furtiva lagrima" is unmatched in its expression of unbridled joy.  Mr. Knight's performance was emotional and included a stunning messa di voce. To make this simple story engaging, we in the audience need to care deeply for this shy and awkward everyman who dares to dream beyond his station in life.  And we need to believe that the rejecting Adina has enough wisdom and strength of character to recognize the value of his loyalty, devotion and honesty.

This the young artists conveyed brilliantly.  James Edgar Knight was a loveable simpleton, awkward and ingenuous.  (Appearing awkward onstage was a masterpiece of acting for the suave and handsome tenor.)  Coloratura soprano Yunnie Park created a spunky Adina and convinced us that she had a soft spot in her heart for Nemorino, one that she did a great job at hiding until his popularity with the local maidens  (predicated upon his receiving a huge inheritance) evoked her jealousy.  Often we do not recognize the value of what comes to us easily until we are threatened with its loss!  This she conveyed with brilliant bursts of fioritura, pinpoint in its accuracy and thrilling in its speed.

Figuring in the plot as well are two comic figures--the pompous Sargent Belcore stylishly sung by baritone Jorell Williams and the outlandish Doctor Dulcamara performed by an excellent bass Ignacio Gama.  Belcore is passing through town and falls for Adina and begs for her hand in marriage; she agrees to make Nemorino jealous.

Dr. Dulcamara is a traveling huckster/con man, peddling a worthless elixir designed to cure everyone's ills.  His aria "Udite o rustici" was persuasive and well performed.  Nemorino asks for his help in wooing Adina and is sold a bottle of wine which he is told will make him irresistible to women.  Too broke to pay for a second bottle, he sells himself to Belcore as a recruit.  The scene between him and Belcore was exceedingly well directed (Tara Faircloth directed the entire opera with a sure hand) with postures and gestures echoing one another while the dialog showed the differences in their character and goals.

Nemorino realizes that Adina loves him when he sees a tear in her eye and Adina realizes she loves him when she is made aware of his sacrifice (military duty).  She purchases his military contract so he can stay on the land he loves and presumably marry her.  We get the "happily ever after" and walk out with a big smile.

Willie Anthony Waters conducted in fine bel canto style.  Charles Caine designed the costumes in fine mid-19th c. style with the typical happy peasants in colorful attire.  But it is Dulcamara's costume that took the cake.  He was done up in bright pink and turquoise with outlandish medals and a giant feather in his cap.  And let's not forget the pink spats!  Noby Ishida led the chorus of village maidens and they added significantly to the production.  Maria Brea was delightful as Adina's friend Giannetta.

This is opera as it is meant to be--transporting us to another time and place by means of authenticity.  We have seen many many productions of this opera, even one set in the Wild West in the 50's with Dulcamara arriving in a Cadillac convertible and Adina being the owner of a diner.  It didn't work.  (Adina is the town lettrice in Act I.  The peasants who work her land are illiterate.  It's the 19th c.! )  Updating operas does NOT make them more relevant.  We speak out in favor of authenticity!  And now we step down from our soap box to tell you that the
opera will be presented again on Sunday at 2PM at Hunter College.  You will hear a different but equally wonderful cast singing Donizetti's gorgeous melodies.  You too will have partaken of the Elixir of Love.

© meche kroop

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