The Metropolitan Opera House
01/09/2014 - & January 13, 17, 21*, 25, 29, February 1, 2014
Gaetano Donizetti: L’elisir d’amore
Anna Netrebko (Adina), Ramón Vargas (Nemorino), Nicola Alaimo (Belcore), Erwin Schrott (Dulcamara), Anne-Carolyn Bird (Giannetta)
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus, Donald Palumbo (chorus master), The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Maurizio Benini (conductor)
Bartlett Sher (production), Michael Yeargen (set designer), Catherine Zuber (costume designer), Jennifer Tipton (lighting designer)
E. Schrott, A. Netrebko & R. Vargas
(Courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera)
Donizetti's comic talents reached their heights in this light-hearted farce of love and romance. Poor Nemorino loves the wealthy and book learned Adina, but she scorns him as a simpleton and nearly falls for the blustery arrogance of the visiting Sergeant Belcore. Help comes in the form of the quack Doctor Dulcamara, who sells a cure-all that passes for a love potion but is in reality a bottle of cheap wine. Nemorino gets drunk on it and his antics both drive the Adina-Belcore marriage forward and get him abused and left in despair. Unknown to him, however, his wealthy uncle has died and left him everything, a change in fate that suddenly makes him immensely attractive to all the local women except Adina, who is instead drawn by his new popularity and apparent happiness. A confession of love for him resolves the romance, with the sleazy Dulcamara taking all the credit and selling his elixir far and wide.
Bartlett Sher's production premiered on the opening night of the last season to tepid reviews. The picturesque sets and costumes are appropriate to the opera's time and place and are not without color. But the tendency toward cool shades of blue dilute the work's intrinsic warmth in a way that could be less satisfying to those who treasured the old John Copley production, in which the great Luciano Pavarotti took storied bows. There is also a surprisingly dark streak of cruelty in the presentation, with Nemorino's abuse at the end of Act I taking on rough physicality at the hands of Belcore's men.
Nevertheless, the vocal fireworks more than filled out the stage before an audience diluted by the serious snow storm that blanketed New York. Anna Netrebko sang Adina to the usual star-level acclaim after having earlier in the day posted a public Facebook photo of herself in a bathing suit on her balcony in the falling snow. The tenacious look on her face was only surpassed by her stunning singing and beguiling acting. A few early sharps yielded to the round, warm tones that have won for her a well deserved international reputation for vocal excellence unharmed by exuberance. Her mastery of gesture, expression, and stage movement made it impossible to remove one's eyes from her all evening.
Tenor Ramón Vargas could be forgiven for not reaching Pavarotti's iconic stature in the role. But the warmth of his voice has not lost its alluring sweetness and the portrayal was truly gifted without losing the much needed light touch. Nicola Alaimo's stentorian baritone was at home in the role of the blustering Belcore. And Erwin Schrott delivered a comical Dulcamara without the voice failing to remind us what a superb bass-baritone he is and how well he can tackle Don Giovanni and the heavier repertoire that undoubtedly awaits him.
Maurizio Benini is something of a wonder in the ranks of the Met's staff conductors, a tireless and energetic musician who has mastered the Italian comic repertoire. He led a fun and eager performance.
Paul du Quenoy