Three years already since my last opera review?! I feel bad about that and intend to start making it right, firstly with this review of L’Elisir d’Amore (“The Elixir of Love”) by Gaetano Donizetti, of Lucia di Lammermoor fame.
Some backstory for newer readers: I’ve been enjoying operas at the local movie theater, streamed live from the Met, since 2012. It’s a wonderful weekend “excursion” – my cousin, also an opera fan, has joined me in the last couple of years, and I’ve succeeded in getting my sister and brother interested as well. Tickets run around $30, but for a 2-4 hour show and the quality of the productions, you definitely get your money’s worth. (That said, I usually only go to 2-3 per season, for budgetary reasons.)
The story of L’Elisir d’Amore is a classic love triangle – a rich, carefree lady named Adina (sung by Pretty Yende) is being aggressively wooed by an arrogant but dashing sergeant, Belcore (baritone Davide Luciano). Meanwhile, the young peasant Nemorino (Matthew Polenzani) is also pining after Adina and will do anything to get her attention. A traveling salesman posing as a “Dr” Dulcamara (Ildebrando D’Arcangelo) sees an opportunity to sell Nemorino his special love potion, an elixir that is guaranteed to make all the ladies fall in love with him – including, of course, Adina.
Dramatic operas are more my cup of tea, so when L’Elisir d’Amore came up, I was drawn to it mainly because I loved Donizetti’s music in Lucia. I was not disappointed – Donizetti’s elegant bel canto melodies bring a level of class to a story that is otherwise pretty cheesy. Most casual listeners will recognize Nemorino’s aria, “Una Furtiva Lagrima,” – in fact, I’d guess it’s many opera fans’ first favorite tenor aria. Polenzani’s rendition is not virtuosic, yet it’s quite touching, in a way that fits the character very well.
In contrast, much of the humor of the story comes from Dulcamara, and D’Arcangelo stole the show at times with his suave fast-talking (er, singing). Yende as the lead soprano did a fine job, though I was more impressed by her acting skills as the flirty yet affectionate Adina. She is a natural for these Live in HD shows, where the close-up camera angles capture every emotion of the performer, something opera singers of the past did not need to think about. (It used to be that over-exaggerated facial expressions were necessary to reach far into the auditorium – now, subtlety is imperative for televised or filmed productions.)
While not my favorite opera, L’Elisir d’Amore was pretty fun for a lighthearted story, and I would be open to going to more comedies in the future.