Adina and Nemorino (Ekaterina Siurina, Peter Auty) at GlyndebourneI confess, Gentle Readers, to suffering from late-summer doldrums. There's comparatively little opera being performed in the city, and there's a great deal to be done before the academic year recommences. I'm trying to pretend, though, that the regular season is almost here, and directing my pursuit of opera on DVD to productions of operas featured by the Met in their upcoming season. First on my list as on the Met's, then, is Donizetti's charming comedy L'elisir d'amore (incidentally a good antidote to the doldrums) in Annabel Arden's production for Glyndebourne in 2009. The production updated the setting to the 1930s, but without affecting the dynamics of the action considerably: this is still a rural community where Adina is just enough set apart, by class and education, to be intimidating for the likable farmhand Nemorino. The soldiers are Mussolini's blackshirts, but (disturbingly to me, as well as disappointingly) the production doesn't seem to have much to say about what this means. I could understand a directorial choice that showed class solidarity between the enlisted soldiers and the farmhands as overriding or mitigating the potential danger from the fascist state, but I didn't see that happening here. By far the most interesting (not to say the only interesting) feature of the production was the treatment of Dulcamara, here accompanied by a mute, tattooed, top-hatted assistant (James Bellorini.)
Arden seems to have read her Bakhtin (Rabelais and His World), and the figure of Dulcamara makes a good representative of the carnivalesque: he claims to break even the rules of time and mortality, and does, in fact, facilitate Nemorino's bold transgression of class boundaries. Arden's production has the ballad of Senator Tredenti elaborately acted out by Dulcamara and his assistant in front of a curtain, as if to confirm the creation of performative spectacle as one of their essential functions. In the end, however, these potentially disruptive figures confirm the endurance and strengthening of existing structures, pantomiming the raising of children as the consequence/function of Adina and Nemorino's union. The happy lovers are borne away on Dulcamara's cart, into an uncertain future. Unfortunately, I felt that many of the interpretative opportunities Arden created were neglected, as we barely see the larger society that would give them significance. Still, it was not without interest, and the musical values are good. Maurizio Benini leads the London Philharmonic Orchestra in an account of the score that is coherent and lively, if not revelatory in detail. The Glyndebourne chorus proved both accomplished and well-choreographed, with fine detail brought to the crowd scenes. Eliana Pretorian was a very fine Giannetta, and Luciano Di Pasquale made a satisfactory Dulcamara, if one somewhat lacking in vocal and dramatic subtlety. The Belcore of Alfredo Daza was sly as well as conceited, with a suave veneer covering his brashness. Musically, he handled his phrases well, with good diction giving the long, supple lines their points of emphasis. When it comes to Nemorinos (Nemorini?) I've been spoiled, having heard David Lomeli and Juan Diego Florez live, so my sense that Peter Auty's tone was a little thin, and his production of it occasionally a little forced, may be unfair. Dramatically, Auty was very engaging, earnest and amiable (the production shows us, more convincingly than is often the case, Nemorino's integration with village society) and invested his singing with so much feeling that it was impossible not to root for him. The unquestioned standout was the vivacious Adina of Ekaterina Siurina. Vocally secure and radiant of tone, Siurina handled the demands of the role with assurance. Apparently at home with leisurely and luxuriant phrases and rapid runs alike, Siurina was, for me, a delight. She and Auty had a warm, easy chemistry which made their eventual admission of mutual affection credible and satisfying.
To conclude, a brief survey of other Elisirs on DVD: my preferred choice may be the 1996 DVD from Lyon with the Gheorghiu-Alagna team. In similar fashion to the Arden, the production is unambitiously updated to the 1920s, and the leads, both in excellent vocal form, are well-suited to their respective roles. There is also a luxuriously-cast Met performance from 1991, showcasing the premiere of the John Copley production which is now being retired, and the talents of Luciano Pavarotti, Kathleen Battle, and Juan Pons. Although it might seem too irreverent an adjective, Pavarotti's Nemorino is nothing less than adorable, and James Levine leads the orchestra in a performance of unusually full-blooded romanticism. My favorite Elisir production of those I've seen, though, is the one streamed last year by the Bayrische Staatsoper, and not (yet?) available on DVD. Reviewed here by Zerbinetta of Likely Impossibilities, this warm-hearted, futuristic production highlights Nemorino's and Adina's growth as individuals, and celebrates their love as conquering even a grim dystopia. Aww. What Bartlett Sher can bring to Donizetti's opera besides surface charm and a backdrop for Netrebko & Co. to do their thing remains to be seen.