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Saturday, January 6, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: L'elisir d'Amore

This Donizetti comedy hits you right in the...grapes.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Nowhere man: Matthew Polenzani is Nemorino in L'elisir d'Amore.
Photo courtesy the Metropolitan Opera.
Donizetti's charming pastoral comedy is the ideal warm-up for a frozen New York City. It returns to the Metropolitan Opera stage with Pretty Yende in the role of Adina and Matthew Polenzani reprising the role of the persistent, love-struck Nemorino.


What is L'elisir d'Amore?
The title means "The Elixir of Love." This is one of  the most popular comedies in the operatic repertory, L'elisir takes elements of the Tristan and Isolde legend and transports them to the rural Italian countryside.

What is it about?
This is the story of Nemorino ("little nobody") a country bumpkin in love with the wealthy Adina. He goes to a traveling quack for a love potion and is given a bottle of wine. Along the way there is hootch-fuelled tomfoolery and Nemorino nearly gets drafted into the army (by his own romantic rival.) This alerts Adina that she is about to let the best bachelor in their little village slip through her fingers.

What's the music like?
Donizetti was one of the Big Three composers of the bel canto era (the others are Rossini and Bellini), and this opera has some of his warmest and most accessible writing for the voice. Stylistically it mixes bel canto with the opera buffa style, and the voices carry most of the weight. The arias following the strict rule of cavatina followed by cabaletta: slow followed by fast and there are also wonderful ensembles. The writing is tonal, melodic and a ray of bright sunshine for the ears.

Who's in it? 
The soprano Pretty Yende, who floored New York with high-flying performances in operas by Rossini, extends her talents to Donizetti's comedy. Matthew Polenzani, who sang the premiere of this production is her Nemorino. Davide Luciano and Ildebrando d'Arcangelo round out the cast. Domingo Hindoyan conducts.

How's the production?
Bartlett Sher updates the action and ratchets up the tension (why?!) by making the quack Doctor Dulcamara an arms smuggler helping to arm peasant guerillas, presumably so they can fight off the contingent of Austrian troops (led by the bellicose Sergeant Belcore) that march into the little village in Act I.

Why should I see it? 
Elisir is an ideal "starter" opera with hummable, memorable melodies including the tenor showpieces "Quant'o bella" and "Una furtiva lagrima."

When does it open?
The first performance is January 16, 2018.


Where can I get tickets?
Tickets  are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save the $10 service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.


Which recording should I buy?

Glyndebourne Festival Orchestra (Glyndebourne Opera Festival, released 2010)
Nemorino: Luigi Alva
Adina: Mirella Freni
Belcore: Enzo Sordello
Doctor Dulcamara: Sesto Bruscantini
A revelation! This tape sat in the vault for almost half a century before being released in a 2 disc package last year. The young Freni is miraculous here, paired with bel canto specialist Luigi Alva. A thrilling live performance taped in the intimate conflicts of the Glyndebourne Festival.

English Chamber Orchestra cond. Richard Bonynge (Decca, 1972)
Nemorino: Luciano Pavarotti
Adina: Joan Sutherland
Belcore: Dominic Cossa
Doctor Dulcamara: Spiro Malas
This is one of the classic Decca recordings pairing the unbeatable combination of Sutherland and Pavarotti in this repertory. Luciano injects his ineffable charm into the role of the lovestruck Nemorino. Sutherland's cool approach to the music suits the bookish Adina. With her husband conducting, La Stupenda takes a different cabaletta than the norm in Act II, singing one written for the great Maria Malibran.

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.