While hardly a rarity, Gaetano Donizetti’s comic opera L’Elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love) doesn’t usually rank in popularity with the likes of Aida, La Bohème or Carmen. But after a performance such as that which acted as the curtain-raiser for the Macau International Music Festival, it can be hard to understand why not. Effortlessly enjoyable, the work also contains passages of aching beauty and contains more insights into human nature than its rom-com surface would let on.
Elisir tells of country bumpkin Nemorino, hopelessly in love with Adina, the town’s “it” girl. Adina, who definitely needs to get over herself, entertains the town by reading the story of Isolde’s love potion and gets herself engaged to a visiting sergeant merely to, as far as anyone can tell, spite Nemorino. Nemorino procures the help of Dr Dulcamara, a less-than-honest purveyor of quack potions, one of which just happens to be, after Nemorino enquires, the very same love potion used by Queen Isolde.
Gamberoni’s Adina might have stepped off the set of “Friends”.
The world is currently blessed with several accomplished young Adinas and so, regardless of the voice—and goodness, does Italian soprano Serena Gamberoni have a marvelous clear-as-a-bell voice—a singer must do more that just sing to stand out. Gamberoni successful gambit is to update and modernize the character: her Adina—in tone, gesture, expressions and posture—might have stepped off the set of “Friends”. It is to take nothing away from Gamberoni’s vocal abilities to say that she communicated just as much when silent as when singing. If opera is to attract a new generation of audiences, it might just be like this.
Towards the end of the Act II, Adina asks Nemorino:
Dimmi: perché partire, perché farti soldato hai risoluto?
Tell me: why are you leaving, why have you resolved to become a soldier?
The legato through “perché farti soldato hai resoluto” makes it one of the most beautiful passages in all opera, full of regret, sadness, hope and yearning all in one passage of just seconds. It is here that Adina realizes who she really is, and that maybe she has been making some mistakes, and potentially one very big one. When Gamberoni sang this line, we believed it—or at least I did—and all of the opera’s clever artifice suddenly looks very human.
Chacón Cruz had a melting legato and a definite ping in the high notes.
Arturo Chacón Cruz, winner of the 2005 Operalia competition, is no longer exactly wet behind the ears, but on stage he looked 28 going on 19. Nemorino, it must be said, is something of a silly part: he’s a few glasses short of a full bottle, as it were. There’s not much choice but to ham it up, and this Nemorino was alternately yokel and puppy: one cannot blame the rather more sophisticated Adina too much for treating him as she does.
Vocally, Chacón Cruz came into his own in the second Act, with a melting legato and a definite ping in the high notes.
But what is it with Mexican tenors? Even few years there’s another one who seems born for this particular role. Chacón Cruz is following in the footsteps of two other memorable Mexican Nemorinos, Ramón Vargas and Rolando Villazón, whose influence was evident both vocally and visually. Or maybe it’s just something in the water.
Soprano Hyesang Park as Giannetta soared above the chorus in the Act II ensemble.
The production boasted another Operalia winner in Hyesang Park who sang Gianetta, which must be one of the most underrated small soprano roles in opera: she needs to perkily deliver the news of Nemorino’s inheritance and then soar above the chorus in the following ensemble. The audience was lucky to have Park in the cast in what may well prove to be an “I remember when…” moment: she is graduating to Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia at Glyndebourne next year.
The cast was rounded out by Russian baritone Alexey Lavrov as Sargeant Belcore and the veteran Italian Alfonso Antoniozzi as the conman Dulcamara. Both were delightfully hammy and over-the-top commedia dell’arte foils to the budding love affair.
The Zurich Opera production was simple and functional with attractive cartoon-like sets. The main local contribution came in the form of the Macao Orchestra, which was conducted by Raif Weikert, one-time music director of the Zurich Opera. There was some stage business—a boar that appeared that appeared at apparently random intervals and Dulcamara’s mute assistants—that might have been dispensed with, but there was little to distract from an accomplished and entertaining evening of musical comedy.
Peter Gordon is editor of the Asian Review of Books.