Culture Magazine

È Bordo, Non Elisir

By Singingscholar @singingscholar
Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore is a charming opera: it is coherently and elegantly constructed; it is witty and winsome; its comedic scenarios are laced with a poignancy that makes the development of its characters satisfying. These are all virtues which Bartlett Sher's new production conspicuously lacks. Sher claimed to be inspired by the political upheavals of Italy in the 1830s, but his production resembled nothing so much as a second-rate landscape painting of the same period (with the possible exception of a second-rate opera production of a century later.) Men and women of all ages and walks of life crowd into the square to see Dulcamara's coach, but it is unclear why. Nemorino, who is mocked as being semi-literate, enters the stage reading a book. Adina eats fruit to establish her sensuality. Dulcamara is apparently supplying rifles to the anti-Austrian faction, but his air of bonhomie never alters, and the soldiers are deterred from investigation by a wave of the hand. Belcore and his implausibly immaculate soldiery harass the citizenry in an absent, halfhearted way, interrupting these efforts whenever it comes time to sing a chorus. Nemorino, perhaps for the sake of Romanticism, sings "Una furtiva lagrima" on a heath at dawn. Against this picturesque and pointless backdrop, a fine cast did their best to do the opera justice.
Mauricio Benini led the orchestra in an account of the score more competent than engaging. Tempi problems beset the first act, especially, as the orchestra got in front of the singers. I appreciated, though, Benini's recognition of the score's liveliness, and fine use of dynamic shading to bring out contrasts in repeated sections. The well-trained chorus acquitted themselves admirably of their considerable duties. Anne-Carolyn Bird made a vocally pleasant and pertly self-important Giannetta. As Belcore, Mariusz Kwiecien swaggered with more justification than the vain sergeant often has. Kwiecien, vocally smooth and extremely suave, was a suitor more impetuous than importunate. (When the order to move on came, he seemed far from loath to leave with pleasant memories rather than a permanent attachment.) Ambrogio Maestri's warm and ample voice is a great fit for Dulcamara, and he handled the role's linguistic demands with native confidence. Maestri had good chemistry with the would-be lovers, as well; what I didn't see from him was a sense of any underlying social or political motivation, but I'm inclined to blame the production for this. Similarly let down by the production's lack of focus was Matthew Polenzani. Polenzani sang attractively, stylishly, and with impressive command of phrasing and dynamics... and I got very little idea of who this Nemorino was. His and Adina's mutual attempts at manipulation show neither in a very good light. He has gained confidence, by the end, but wisdom? Still, his wistful Act II aria was shaped with real grace. Anna Netrebko solved the problem of being let down by the production by romping all over it. The weight and dark timbre of her voice are surprising in the role (I kept thinking of Verdi heroines) but she sang it with welcome panache. Despite her occasional tendency to sit at the bottom of the pitch, Netrebko's forthright earthiness was very welcome in the role of the literate and fastidious landowner. She brought a much-needed infusion of sensuality to the production, which--for all its promised insights--lacks even the solid virtues of a good Bordeaux.

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