Clowning Around with Bel Canto
(Los Angeles, Calif., September 15, 2009) One of opera's most popular comedies,
The Elixir of Love by
Gaetano Donizetti tells the story of a magic love potion and the destiny of a love triangle involving a lovable bumpkin, a dashing sergeant and the bewitching town flirt. Filled with lighthearted charm and bursting with feel-good laughs,
The Elixir of Love features effervescent Italian melodies and plenty of
bel canto vocal fireworks.
Gerald: New to the Los Angeles stage,
Giuseppe Filianoti (who plays Nemorino) is an incredibly accomplished tenor, and physically he has those leading-man looks. We've seen a few productions recently in which the leads looked like movie stars, and having pretty people in the roles is something Hollywood audiences seem to appreciate.
Georja: Not just his voice and his looks, but his character, his comic timing, the sincerity in his acting were all perfect. He was pretty amusing when he was crawling around on the floor in his underwear or when he was lapping up the amorous attentions of two dozen farm girls. A perfect lovable clown. His voice, always dulcet and smooth, seemed more powerful in some scenes, especially when he was expressing melancholy.
And our lovely Adina, the erudite Italian farm girl, was also perfectly played by the charming, lively and beautiful Nino Machaedze, another new face in town. She was sparkling and bright and lit up the stage with her looks, her voice and her lightheartedness. She is strong in her elaborate ornamentations of the music as well as her acting and comedy timing, handkerchief teasing and scampering about the stage. She is a real star and I hope we get to see more of her.
Our soldier Belcore was appropriately pompous and commanding. Nathan Gunn was stiff and stately in the role, a wide stretch from the last time we saw him at the LA Opera in The Magic Flute, when his agile persona of Papageno thrilled us last season.
Giorgio Caodura was the understudy who played Doctor Dulcamara. He flawlessly portrayed the shyster traveling "doctor" with the magic potion. He had some hilarious sight gags with his sidekick, a little person who was a kind of "Mini-Me" (played to great comic effect by David J. Steinberg).
Gerald: Elixir of Love is opera from an older period than Verdi, Strauss and Wagner. Composers of this style included Donizetti, as well as Rossini and Bellini. The bel canto style emphasizes melodic vocal artistry. It's also the name of a singing technique that centers on prolonging the vowel sounds. The result is a full, open-throated singing that can project to the back of the hall even at low volume and without straining the singer's voice. It's obvious from these virtuoso performances that conductor James Conlon, chorus master Grant Gershon, as well as the opera stars, have an excellent grasp and thorough mastery of bel canto style (even though Conlon is a self-confessed aficionado of later German opera).
Georja: As music director Conlon mentions in the program notes, Italian opera had tailored itself to the contemporary theater as a form of entertainment: "Opera productions were generated by a need to furnish singers with vehicles to flout their talents." Tenors and sopranos were given beautiful melodies and a series of applause-provoking arias, and often the comic characters' acting was better than their singing. The piece was executed with a lot of the characteristics of the famous Commedia del'Arte. Rossini is credited with the prototype of bel canto style with his swirling crescendos and embellishments, grand finales and pungent harmonies.
Gerald: My only quibble with this production was one aspect of the staging. The literal centerpiece of both acts is a huge banquet table inside a large barn. Placing the table center stage has the effect of visually composing the chorus numbers like Tuscan paintings. But when the dramatic action comes down to a duet, as it so often does in Elixir, the characters have to play the scene at the ends of the table, and they seem to keep stumbling around it. Occasionally, they jump up and prance around on the tabletop--a more interesting solution--but one you can't overuse.
Georja: I found the actors to be nimble and quick. The staging was innovative, as they used not only tabletops but also ladders and a hay wagon for the action. The indoor-outdoor scene setting was very effective, especially coupled with the bright light of sunshine outdoors and the darker interior with light pouring through the barn's slats. One bit made excellent use of the dual set as the audience could get a glimpse of Nemorino as he sneaked out the open door and took a whiz in the hay fields. I give director Stephen Lawless a lot of credit for bringing up so much comic flair. This is one of the very few operas I have seen that I think could possibly stand on its own as comic theater even without the singing! And I loved the singing!
Elixir is widely known for its most beautiful aria "Una furtive lacrima" and was one of Luciano Pavarotti's standards. I understand it is what gave him his first rise to stardom. The song is a showstopper. We are always glad that the late, great Luciano is alluded to in the program, which states that Los Angeles Opera's productions from the Italian repertoire are made possible in part by a gift in memory of the great master in honor of his contributions to the world of opera.
Gerald: Even with all the excitement of starting a new opera season, my expectations weren't high for this one. I assumed, as many people did, that the huge cost of mounting the Ring Cycle later this year would make the other operas go begging. I expected the non-Wagnerian productions to be revivals with spare sets and less than stellar casts. Yes, Elixir of Love is a revival (of a 1996 production), but in all respects it is first-class. And most exciting, it introduced the Los Angeles audience to some new voices--three young stars Nino Machaidze, Giuseppe Filianoti and Giorgio Caoduro. And of course Nathan Gunn, a familiar baritone, is always a solid favorite. Soprano Valerie Vinzant (in the supporting role of Giannetta) is lovely both to look at and to hear. In short, Elixir is a must-see, especially if you are one of those opera lovers who wouldn't prefer an entire season of the Ring Cycle.
Georja Umano is an actress/comedienne and animal advocate.
Gerald Everett Jones is the author of the Rollo Hemphill series of comic novels.
Photos by Robert Millard
Los Angeles Opera
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Los Angeles, CA
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LA Opera's Elixir of Love
Saturday, September 12, 2009, 6:00 p.m
Tuesday, September 15, 2009, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, September 20, 2009, 2:00 p.m.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009, 7:30 p.m.
Friday , September 25, 2009, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, September 27, 2009, 2:00 p.m.Wednesday, September 30, 2009, 7:30 p.m.