The MET Opera House/ Tuesday January 10th, 2023.
Welcome back friends!
Welcome back, this week once again, to the fabulous world of opera, and to one of the most fun, joyful, silly, heartening, cheerful, uplifting, “commedia del arte” inspired, musically ravishing, early 19th century (1832) “bel canto” / “beautiful singing”, (an Italian style of singing embodying the idea of beauty with long, spinning vocal phrases found in gorgeous, juicy, and heartwarming arias) operas, whose popularity over the centuries has never waned.
Wow! and yay!
Welcome to “L’Elisir d’Amore “, written by one of my favorite Italian composers, an extremely prolific artist who composed more than 60 operas (famed also especially for 3 other “pearls”: his gorgeous tragic opera “Lucia di Lammermoor”, written 3 years later, his comic opera and my very favorite of his, “La fille du régiment”, written 7 years later, and also finally, his silly and fun comic opera or opera “buffa” “Don Pasquale”, written 10 years later).
So welcome to hyper gifted musically, Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848), and his joyful, impertinent, and witty librettist Felice Romani (1788-1865) and considered the finest librettist of his time, who based “L’Elisir d’Amore” ‘s own libretto, from other expert librettist (and illustrious for his neat and tight plots) Eugène Scribe’s (1791-1861) own libretto, written for Daniel Auber’s (1782-1871) similar opera, performed the previous year (1831), “Le Philtre”.
Wow! and yay!
An opera “L’Elisir d’Amore”, whose popularity stems in my mind, from the fact that Donizetti rooted it in multiple engaging and timeless “myths”, and still typical of modern escapist “chick flick” movies more recently (such as 2004 Winnick ‘s “13 going on 30”), which encapsulate the simple idea that sometimes first love endures, regardless of the presence of magic, which of course, audiences from past and present, still respond to with great enthusiasm, joy and glee.
How about that?
In particular, all characters, are stereotypical members of the Italian “Commedia dell’ arte” theater: whether “Nemorino” a young shy peasant, lacking self confidence (as a classic “Pierrot”) desperately in love, pinning for his beautiful, fickle and charming “Adina” (a typical “Colombine”), or “Doctor Ducalmara” as the charismatic, yet shrewd, cunning, cagey, and judgemental “Doctor/pharmacist/traveling liquor salesman” whose great showmanship always provides great public entertainment, or the slightly pretentious, pompous, swaggering, military man, Sgt. Belcore, certain of his charms.
And interestingly, all these stereotypical “theater” characters, also believe in an even more ancient myth which has endured over the centuries, and which can be traced back to the Greco-Roman world, the possibility of the existence a potent, magic, “elixir”/”love potion” to ensure that one’s love is reciprocated.
Would it not be incredibly convenient, yet perhaps, a tad abusive, and as importantly, not as rewarding?
Just a thought.
What is the plot about?
Set in a small rural community in Italy, or the Basque country, where everyone knows each other, this short and sweet 2 acts opera “L’Elisir d’Amore”, is about the strength of innocent “first love” which can not only endure, but can also, overcome all obstacles, once one believes in oneself (without any help from a magic elixir/ love potion).
Of course, a story everyone wants to embrace wholeheartedly!
Specifically, in Act 1 we discover “Nemorino”, a young man (and peasant), totally smitten (as one can be with “first love”), with a beautiful, inconstant, capricious, fiery, fickle, and well read young girl, “Adina”, actually reading as the opera starts, the “Tristan and Iseult” myth (where Tristan won the heart of Iseult by drinking a magic “elixir/love potion”) and whom (Adina) he (Nemorino), thinks is beyond his reach, (when of course, Adina actually also, is moved and smitten without realizing it at first, by Nemorino from the very beginning), and who will therefore (Nemorino), reach out to an elixir/”love potion” (really simply Bordeaux wine), sold by a highly entertaining and slightly cagey traveling “Pharmacist” (Doctor Dulcalmara), a salesman of patent medicine who has just arrived in town (including, which amuses immensely all audiences, a “potion” capable of curing “anything”), to gain (for Nemorino) first and foremost, self confidence, and to “battle” as well, the recent arrival of a rival (the pompous Sgt. Belcore), also fascinated with Adina’s charms and whom he intends to marry then and there, as he discovers her great beauty.
And a proposal which Adina on the spot, accepts (the wedding proposal from Sgt. Belcore), just to annoy Nemorino, to which Nemorino responds to, after initially playing “hard to get” with Adina, by feigning indifference, by begging Adina to wait one more day for the wedding.
Nemorino then, realizes he will need more “help” from Doctor Ducalmara’s “elixir/love potion” (the Bordeaux wine).
So silly and fun!
By Act 2, at the wedding party, we see that Adina, although entertaining her guests, is still not signing her marriage contract, until Nemorino appears.
Nemorino asks Doctor Dulcamara for another bottle of “elixir”, and since he has no money left to pay for it, is persuaded by his rival Sgt. Belcore, to join the army and receive a volunteer bonus.
Oh boy! A real coup for Sgt. Belcore of course.
Nemorino then, finds himself assailed by a group of exhilarated, enticing, and seductive women from the village, who actually have heard that he (Nemorino) has just inherited a fortune from an uncle, (which Nemorino is unaware of), and Nemorino innocently, is then convinced (and to the audience’s great amusement of course), that the elixir is finally taking effect, and that his own charms are recognized, as they should, by a huge number of women.
So silly and fun.
Adina unaware of all these news herself (the huge fortune that Nemorino just inherited), in the meantime, feels responsible for Nemorino’s enlistment, and buys back his enlistment papers.
Yet, Adina’s concern turns to jealousy and sadness (a tear appears on her cheek), when she sees Nemorino being “courted” by all the women in the village. And of course, Doctor Ducalmara boasts about the power of his elixir, and offers Adina to buy some, but she is determined to win back Nemorino all on her own (as she should), and who by now, is a master (Nemorino) at feigning indifference, which she finally does (win him back), after she (Adina) finally confesses her love to him.
So cheeky yet entertaining (this charming and a tad silly love drama).
And let’s listen now, to a short excerpt of the most beautiful aria of the opera sang by Camarena (to me the best tenor in town these days, bar none), in a different production from a few years ago, and one of the most loved tenor arias of the entire opera canon, during which Nemorino finally understands, in a gorgeous, romantic and melancholic tune, that his Adina must love him, if she tears up when he is being seduced by other women.
Listen, it is truly incredible:
Just incredibly gorgeous, and sang again to perfection, and with great nuance, and still at a relaxed pace, last Tuesday, by the amazing Camarena as well.
And as the two love birds (Nemorino and Adina) finally realize they are in love, Adina declares of course, that Sgt. Belcore is ancient history to her, and decides to commit herself instead fully, to her Nemorino.
Sgt. Belcore then appears to find Adina and Nemorino embracing, and he (Sgt. Belcore), immediately then, redirects his affection towards another woman (Giannetta), and declares that a thousand women await him elsewhere, while Doctor Dulcamara brags to the crowd that his miraculous potion can not only make people fall in love, but even turn poor peasants into millionaires.
So fun and silly!
And of course the audience eats it up!
And finally, an opera which (and it does not always happen in opera) for once, ends also super well.
What to say about the production itself?
That Bartlett Sher’s production, with beautiful, a tad antiquated, yet poetic rural sets by Michael Yeargan, and wonderfully stunning and delightful costumes by Catherine Zuber, was simply charming, and allowing for fun crowds, and beautiful “tongue and cheek”, and sometimes even, romantic intimate moments.
What to say of the conductor and performers?
That all of them, including the chorus, were, as was the orchestra, beautifully conducted, with great beauty and sensitivity, under Michele Gamba’s masterful baton, including the multiple great arias.
And four singers, particularly stood out for me:
First, the Mexican and highly expressive tenor, Javier Camarena, was truly exceptional as the smitten young peasant Nemorino, such warmth and such soul, what technique, and what a great actor as well: extremely convincing in his portrayal of this shy young man, who learns how to self assert with nuance and charm, by the end of the opera. A truly insanely gifted tenor!
Second, in the entertaining role of the traveling salesman, the devious yet charismatic Doctor Dulcamara, Italian baritone, Ambrogio Maestri was wonderful, fun, witty, cunning and what great showmanship!
Third, charming, intense and spirited, South African soprano, Golda Schultz, was a terrific Adina, what a great technique and beautiful color, and what a great depiction of a smitten, passionate, cheeky, and at times, moving young woman.
And finally, I loved charming and full of fun swagger, Italian baritone Davide Luciano, as an amusing and pretentious “Sgt. Belcore”, and what clear and beautiful voice is his.
So, to sum up my feelings, about Donizetti’s witty, silly, gleeful, and heartwarming “l’Elisir d’Amore”, filled with much entertaining, light hearted love drama, admired last Tuesday, at the MET Opera, in great company: what fun, joy, and great commedia dell’arte theater set to awesomely beautiful music, and what intricate arias and duets, how moving, appealing, and smitten is Camarena as “Nemorino”, what a wonderfully delightful and entertaining “Doctor Dulcara” Maestri proves to be, what a seductive “Adina” Schultz embodies as well, and what an amusing Sgt. Belcore, Luciano portrays, and finally, what a poetic Sher production, enhancing beautifully, the idea that in a small rural village where everyone knows each other and looks out for one another, sometimes even, one can fall in love early on in life, and have that love endure (without any help from magic).
And not to be missed!
Until next time friends!
Eternal butterflies 😊