A charming L’Elisir d’Amore at the Met

The gentle shades of color on the scrim curtain greeting the audience entering the auditorium of the Metropolitan Opera bode well for a delightful evening with Donizetti’s gentle L’Elisir d’Amore. Bartlett Sher’s production captures the laziness of a farm in southern Italy, the yellow hue of the hot sun is pervasive throughout the first act. Cold outside on the Plaza, but beautiful here inside!

Adina reads about Tristan and Isotta; Nemorino and Giannetta listen...

Adina reads about Tristan and Isotta; Nemorino and Giannetta listen...

Adina, the owner, seems to have a nice relationship with the gathered villagers and her farmhands, but she, intelligent and clearly in charge of her life, is still above the lot of ‘em, one might even say haughty but nice. Nemorino, a young man more aimless and without a profession, has a love-at-first-sight crush on her. Adina tells him not to waste time chasing her, that her affections, like fruitflies, live briefly but quickly expire.

Maybe not fruitflies, I don't know, the line goes by quickly.

Soprano Pretty Yende warms our hearts vocally and dramatically as Adina struggles over the course of the evening with the truth ever-growing from a kernel that she has affections for Nemorino. At times she leaps into Lucia’s upper register, as if to give us something to look forward to later this season.

Nemorino with the elixir of love...actually claret wine...seems to be working!

Nemorino with the elixir of love...actually claret wine...seems to be working!

The simple Nemorino is intelligently crafted by Matthew Polenzani. He has been with this production from its premiere in 2012. Even then, but to my eyes and ears even more so this season, he’s honed a rewarding character: sincere, sympathetic, yet comic of course, but from within, not ridiculous with random funny bits. He sings the role marvelously too. In all capacities, I'd rank Polenzani quite highly among the Nemorinos I've seen at the Met.*  Bravo!

It’s the game of love they play, Adina and Nemorino. The various moves they make to advance or defend themselves and the sources they draw on in this game are the stuff of the drama.

Dulcamara woos the villagers with fabulous benefits of his elixirs

Dulcamara woos the villagers with fabulous benefits of his elixirs

One obvious game changer is the elixir from the quack Dr. Dulcamara, who is sung with gusto by basso Ildebrando D’Arcangelo. Quack perhaps, a cheat too, but he also is not shy on giving his advice to the lovers, in separate sessions of course. He helps to bring about Adina's thaw. Enjoy his freewheeling antics, his lightness of foot and his patter!

Sgt. Belcore, not really a good heart, is solidly etched by baritone Davide Luciano. Though a force to be dealt with, to be sure, Belcore is really just a pawn. Giannetta is sung by a charming but busy Ashley Emerson.

Belcore becomes a pawn in Adina's game plan

Belcore becomes a pawn in Adina's game plan

Domingo Hindoyan, making his debut with this season's L’Elisir, never rushes Donizetti’s simple but intelligent score. This, I feel, is the way it should be. Though the text to L’Elisir was adapted from a French libretto, the characters are drawn from the age-old types of the Italian Commedia del’Arte. We know who they are, we know how the plot will play out, and wise is he at the helm who lets it happen. Eternal plots and characters should bubble along, they shouldn’t be rushed.

Michael Yeargan’s sets, as I said, are appropriately colorful in the daytime of Act I, and also in the late evening of Act II. Though there was a long pause between the two scenes of Act I, the set changes in Act II were smooth and not disruptive to the flow of the action. Sher’s extra characters, fully costumed, are often the agents here. Catherine Zuber’s costumes and Jennifer Tipton’s lighting totally works.  

As Donizetti's three major comedies go, L’Elisir d’Amore is neither as tight nor as slick as Don Pasquale, but neither as loose nor as variable as La Fille du régiment. It’s consistently pleasing: the plot is simple, the characters are well defined, and the music flows along at a pace that never hurries. Of course it’s not Lucia di Lammermoor, it’s not Anna Bolena…it is what it is: simply lovely. Don’t miss L’Elisir!

Reviewed performance: January 24, 2018, actually not so bad for a Wednesday in late January.

Photos: Karen Almond.

* My first L'Elisir d'Amore, in the winter of 1972, starred Carlo Bergonzi, Renata Scotto, Mario Sereni, and Fernando Corena. It was as fabulous as the cast sounds. Luciano Pavarotti owned the role of Nemorino here: we saw him first with Judith Blegen in 1980, the second two times in the new production with Kathleen Battle, one earlier in the 91-92 season and the second later.

*More recently, there were performances with Roberto Alagna, Angela Gheorghiu and the late Dimitri Hvorostovsky; another with Gheorghiu, but Rolando Villazón canceled; of course Juan Diego Flórez, Diana Damrau, Mariusz Kwiecien, and Simone Alaimo (my whole family went to this one!). And then the current production, first run with Polenzani, Anna Netrebko, Kwiecien again, and Ambrogio Maestri, this production three times at least.

*I list these only to say that Matthew Polenzani belongs in this set. My grandmother-in-law saw Enrico Caruso several times, probably as Nemorino, since it was one of his favorite roles. Ever wonder what he was like on stage...

I feel blessed to have seen these casts. L'Elisir is a special opera in my world, certainly among my top 150 favorites. Easily entertained, remember? 

You ask: why so early a start time for the matinee performance of such a short opera? Just a guess: the stage crew at the Met needs the time to put the sets of Wagner’s Parsifal in place for the evening performance. Beast of a production that one, remember?

Ciao, J.