The Elixir of Love | Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

 

Elixir-of-Love 75Written in six weeks, it was an immediate hit and has remained in the repertory ever since. And why not? It has everything an opera needs.

Elixir-of-Love 500

Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love proves that excellent creative work can be produced quickly if you are working within a strong artistic tradition, so that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Written in six weeks, it was an immediate hit and has remained in the repertory ever since. And why not? It has everything an opera needs—pretty girls and handsome men, soldiers, drunk scenes, a love triangle that gets straightened out by final curtain, and a seemingly endless supply of tuneful melodies—arias, duets, ensemble numbers, including one of the most popular recital pieces of all time, the tenor aria “Una furtive lagrima.”

The Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ production captures the delight inherent in Donizetti’s opera, with a production set in small-town America in the teens of the past century. And again, why not? Donizetti placed the action in Basque country, but it is often staged in an Italian village, and any setting that captures the innocence and occasional claustrophobia of an isolated but essentially good-natured community will work.

The plot is as simple as it could be. Nemorino (René Barbera) is in love with Adina (Susannah Biller), but she’s an independent woman who is less than impressed by his infatuation. Then the army comes to town, led by the blustering Belcore (Tom Mix), and she’s so taken that she’s ready to marry him more or less on the spot. In his desperation to prevent the nuptials from taking place, Nemorino enlists the aid of the patent medicine salesman Dr. Dulcamara (Patrick Carfizzi), who assures him that a bottle of his good-for-what-ails-you tonic will work as effectively as the potion that made Isolde fall for Tristan (a story helpfully related by Adina earlier in the first act).

The star of the evening was Barbera, and not just because he was singing the lead role. The recipient of several international awards, he’s now singing on a different level of mastery than the other actors on stage, and the audience clearly appreciated the opportunity to hear an international-class voice right here in St. Louis. Carfizzi also made a strong impression as Dulcamara (and also got to wear the best costume of the night, a purple pinstripe suit accessorized with an orange vest).

Adina’s character was disappointingly diminished in James Robinson’s production. In Donizetti’s version, she’s a wealthy landowner (memorably sporting a top hat in the Bartlett Sher production) who thus has more freedom and power than would be typical for a woman in her day. Robinson made her the town librarian, a choice that brings to mind the unhappy Marian from The Music Man, and in general is not a position particularly associated with either wealth or power. Nemorino is cast as an ice cream salesman (I’m not sure why, but never mind), and Dulcamara a travelling quack, choices that allowed the production to bring two antique vehicles on stage, to great effect—an ice cream truck for Nemorino, and a motorcycle and sidecar for Dulcamara.

Allen Moyer’s unit set is a model of efficiency—a painted backdrop reminiscent of Grant Wood, with a gazebo stage left that serves as the setting for everything from a military recruiting drive to the planned nuptials of Adina and Belcore. It also served as the location for a lot of stage business that sometimes slowed the action unnecessarily—I thought we were in for a long evening early in the first act, but things picked up considerably as the show went on, and the result was a delightful evening of opera whose primary purpose is to deliver entertainment. | Sarah Boslaugh

The Elixir of Love continues in repertory at the Loretto-Hilton Center through June 25. The next production, the world premier of Twenty-Seven, opens on June 14, followed by the Dialogues of the Carmelites on June 18. Ticket information is available by calling (314) 973-4228 or online at ExperienceOpera.org.

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