There’s a great new musical in town and it happens to be an opera! In fact it has been rated the thirteenth most popular opera in the world. It’s The Elixir of Love by Gaetano Donizetti presented by Pacific Opera Project (POP). and it’s playing at the Ebell Club in Highland Park.
Many will shy away because it is “opera” - in our pop-culture world considered hi-brow, inaccessible, and often boring. Not so at Pacific Opera Project. Creative director Josh Shaw has taken a popular Italian comic opera, pared it down, and placed it squarely in the 1950s Americana. He has tweaked the supertitles to reflect expressions and song titles from that era, corralled '50s dance moves, clothing and hair styles and set it inside a '50s diner, which happens to be inside a giant jukebox. (Josh challenges the audience to take a sip of wine each time they recognize a '50s song title. I think that would take several bottles if one were astute!)
Some of the characters are stereotypical '50s as well. Such as the Andrew Potter as Belcore, who does a pretty mean Fonzi imitation without skipping a single glorious bass note of his score. His deep tones are very satisfying to go along with his handsome athletic bod. He makes all the girls swoon and faint!
And Dulcamara, played by Rocky Sellers, the magic potions salesman, spins onto the stage with flair and is taken to be a pop idol - a member of the Drifters or Platters - top groups of the time. Complete with gold suit and crazy dance moves, he relishes the role. It’s very balancing to have two wonderful bass singers in the show, and Sellers' moves are also eye-catching and fun.
The performers are supported by a musical ensemble of eight, fiercely conducted and orchestrated by newcomer to POP Nicholas Gilmore. He and his small group at the back of the stage, feel and sound just right for the show.
The large chorus of singer/dancers doesn’t miss a beat. Their strong voices are a welcome addition. And they didn’t seem to step on each others’ toes either in the many dance numbers in a limited space. One of the cutest scenes was the gossip scene where the girls are all spreading the news among themselves on their land-line phones that there is a rich eligible guy in town. Choreography by Amy Lawrence is top-notch as they play with their phone cords in union and sway their stools up and down.
Our heroine Adina, played by Amanda Kingston, is a sassy and feisty soprano. She is flirty in a witty Katherine-Hepburn kind of way. This role has been played by many opera greats, some with more lilting and vibrato in their tones. Kingston’s voice is clear and strong to match her sharp and unflappable comedy chops. As a lover of Italian, I was thrilled at how she manipulated the words to help bring out her meanings. So sure of her language and acting skills, she was able to hold the first syllable of a word as long as she wanted and then finish it off with flair to make a point.
And our hero, Nemorino, played by Kyle Patterson, is a loveable everyman tenor. A waiter at the diner, he begins humorously dancing with mop and fantasizing about his love Adina, who is always out of reach. Later he is drunk and emboldened by the “magic potion” he believes in (purchased his last buck from Dulcamara).
And the famous and beautiful aria of this piece, Una Furtiva Lagrima - which has been made famous by the likes of Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli as well as many others - is presented masterfully. It’s the one time in the very upbeat show when the lights are lowered and the music resorts to a single oboe. Patterson sings it with emotion as he describes how he believes he saw a tear in Adina’s eye - which gives him hope that she loves him. In the midst of a whirlwind of dancing and comedy, this song is done so well it brought tears to my eyes.
Well directed, choreographed, costumed and lighted. I give it five stars. And kudos go to Josh Shaw for the casting. None of the singers has performed in big opera houses - and they were singing roles made famous by some of the most renowned names in the opera world. And for this production, in this juke-box world, they were all fabulous. Truly fun for all! Rock and rollers and children too. Grab a ticket now!
Photographs by Martha Benedict
Georja Umano is an actress and animal advocatel
Pacific Opera Project
Feb. 14,, 17,18, 24 and 25
Tickets at pacificoperaproject.com
Or call 323 739 6122