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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: L'Elisir d'Amore

Donizetti's Chianti-fueled comedy returns to the Met stage.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
He ain't got nobody. Vittorio Grigolo (left) squares off with Alexandra Kurzak in
the company's revival of L'Elisir d'Amore. Photo by Marty Sohl © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met opened the 2012 season with this Bartlett Sher staging of Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore, the frothy bel canto comedy where a country bumpkin wins the girl with help from a very special bottle of vino. Here, Alexandra Kurzak returns to the Met stage to take over the role of the fiery (but lovable) Adina. As the lovestruck bumpkin, Vittorio Grigolo gets to sing some of the most famous music in the tenor rep.

One of the most popular comedies in the operatic repertory, L'elisir takes elements of the Tristan legend and transports them to the rural Italian countryside  This production updates the action and ratchets up the tension (why?!) by making the quack Doctor Dulcamara an arms smuggler helping to arm peasant guerillas, presumably so they can fight off the contingent of Austrian troops (led by the bellicose Sergeant Belcore) that march into the little village in Act I.

If you leave out the politics and gun-running (and we will, we promise, for the rest of this preview) this is a wonderful opera, with true love triumphing over perceived social class differences and economic barriers. Nemorino, for all his hootch-fuelled tomfoolery, is a sweet lad and it takes him nearly getting drafted into the army to alert Adina that she is about to let the best bachelor in their little village slip through her fingers. It's also a great "starter" opera with hummable, memorable melodies including the tenor showpieces "Quant'o bella" and "Una furtiva lagrima."

L'Elisir d'Amore returns March 10, 2016.

Recording Recommendations:
Glyndebourne Festival Orchestra (Glyndebourne Opera Festival, released 2010)
Nemorino: Luigi Alva
Adina: Mirella Freni
Belcore: Enzo Sordello
Doctor Dulcamara: Sesto Bruscantini
A revalation: this tape sat in the vault for almost half a century before being released in a 2 disc package last year. The young Freni is miraculous here, paired with bel canto specialist Luigi Alva. A thrilling live performance taped in the intimate conflicts of the Glyndebourne Festival.

English Chamber Orchestra cond. Richard Bonynge (Decca, 1972)
Nemorino: Luciano Pavarotti
Adina: Joan Sutherland
Belcore: Dominic Cossa
Doctor Dulcamara: Spiro Malas
This is one of the classic Decca recordings pairing the unbeatable combination of Sutherland and Pavarotti in bel canto repertory. Luciano injects his ineffable charm into the role of the lovestruck Nemorino. Sutherland's cool approach to the music suits the bookish Adina. With her husband conducting, La Stupenda takes a different cabaletta than the norm in Act II, singing one written for the great Maria Malibran.
Tickets for L'Elisir d'Amore are available at MetOperaFamily.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office starting August 11.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.