Review by David Gregspn: August, 14, 2009.
Santa Fe Opera’s Elixir of Love by Gaetano Donizetti: Text by Felice Romani
It often seems that Donizetti’s comic operas with their lightweight and silly drawn-out plots are packed with as much if not more inspired music than his great tragic works like “Lucia” or any of the “queen” operas. I say seems because hardcore Donizetti fans (and there is a huge club of these) could easily argue against such a point of view, but one thing is probably obvious to anyone with an ear and a passion for bel canto: ridiculous comedies like Elixir of Love are full of gorgeous melody from beginning to end.
For sheer beauty, listen to the music written for the tenor hero of “Elixir.” Nemorino is usually portrayed as a dull but adorable country bumpkin who is mentally challenged enough to swallow a sales pitch for a love potion that is nothing more than a bottle of Bordeaux wine. He thinks that drinking enough of it will cause his reluctant girlfriend, Adina, to fall madly in love with him. In Santa Fe’s updated production, Nemorino is an adorable country automobile mechanic in a mise en scene straight from an Italian neorealist movie.
Films of post-World War II movies by Visconti and De Sica spring to mind – only “Elixir,” of course, doesn’t end with horrible or sentimental catastrophes. Nonetheless, where is there an aria in all of Donizetti’s serious oeuvre to equal the emotional pathos of “Una furtiva lagrima” – a melody worthy of the boldest lover or tragic protagonist? In fact, the entire opera opens with another stunner, “Quanto e bella”. A list of lovely or simply delightful numbers could follow here, dutifully catalogued in Italian.
New York tenor Dimitri Pittas proved very lovable indeed as Nemorino, lavishing almost as much care on repairing his little red, two-seater as on wooing Adina. Pittas is a strong, capable singer with a fine voice. That said, his “Una furtiva” missed the gold standard; yet his overall singing and acting performance was totally engaging — as well as quite in line with the general level of competence seen and heard throughout the cast – one with delightfully alluring soprano Jennifer Black as Adina (wrestling at times with bel canto technique and early in Act One nearly getting drowned out by conductor Corrado Rovaris’s sometimes too-loud orchestra), but a welcome new face – to me at least; and with impressive American baritone Patrick Carfizzi as Sergeant Belcore, offering strong vocal chops and amusing military braggadocio in his competition with Nemorino for Adina’s affections.
The opera’s basso mountebank was Thomas Hammons in a captivating turn as the ridiculous Dulcamara, a shameless huckster who could sell the idea of fake Obama birth certificates to the editors of The Nation. Things haven’t changed much.
Director Stephen Lawless seems to have had a nifty idea by placing the action in a WW II rural Italian setting, and Ashley Martin-Davis provides some perfectly suited sets and costumes, although I overheard one complaint that Belcore looked more like an officer than a sergeant. I don’t think too many people noticed this. One clever effect of the show was using a large billboard structure downstage as everything from a place for posted ads (for olive oils and elixir), to a speaker’s platform and to scenic panoramas – and, in the final moments, to a movie screen reading, “The End.”
Apprentice soprano Rachel Schutz deserves notice for her fine Gianetta, one of Adina’s friends. Both the orchestra and chorus (Susanne Sheston, chorus master) were, when not too loud, in top form.
Adina – Jennifer Black
Nemorino – Dimitri Pittas
Belcore – Patrick Carfizzi
Dulcamara – Thomas Hammons
Giannetta – Rachel Schutz
Conductor – Corrado Rovaris
Director – Stephen Lawless
Scenic Designer – Ashley Martin-Davis
Costume Designer – Ashley Martin-Davis
Lighting – Pat Collins
Chorus Master – Susanne Sheston