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Ensemble

A Gala Atmosphere

MARIA NOCKIN reports from
Los Angeles Opera's opening night
'L'Elisir d'amore'

 

Gaetano Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore ('The Elixir of Love') is a 1832 melodramma giocoso in two acts that reflects Italian opera's well-established comedic tradition. While that country's serious operas have characters that represent royalty and the nobility behaving morally in difficult situations, its comic operas present ordinary people in common circumstances who often exhibit the foibles of human nature. Thus, the would-be lover who drinks too much, the beautiful but conceited young girl, the worldly-wise womanizer and the quack doctor are all characters who frequently fulfill roles in opera.

Nathan Gunn as Belcore in L A Opera's 'The Elixir of Love'. Photo © 2009 Robert Millard
Nathan Gunn as Belcore in L A Opera's 'The Elixir of Love'. Photo © 2009 Robert Millard

What makes the characters of L'Elisir different is the genius of the composer and librettist who put together this wonderful work of art. Felice Romani, the librettist, took the French text that Eugène Scribe had used as a libretto for Daniel Auber's Le Philtre ('The Potion') and fashioned it into a much more effective text with life-like characters. Interestingly, Scribe's work was based on an Italian play, Il Filtro, which Romani may also have consulted.

Giuseppe Filianoti as Nemorino in L A Opera's 'The Elixir of Love'. Photo © 2009 Robert Millard
Giuseppe Filianoti as Nemorino in L A Opera's 'The Elixir of Love'. Photo © 2009 Robert Millard

Romani was a poet and literary scholar who was the official librettist at La Scala in Milan. He did not usually make up his own stories, but since he was fluent in French, he often utilized popular plays from Paris stages. At that time, however, the laws pertaining to intellectual property rights were somewhat vague and Romani sometimes encountered problems. His libretto for Donizetti's later opera, Lucrezia Borgia, displeased Victor Hugo, the author of the play from which the opera text was taken. The French writer went to court and got an injunction that kept the opera from being performed until the title and many other aspects of the work were changed. Luckily for everyone involved, the making of L'Elisir was a much smoother ride, and its première on 12 May 1832, at the Teatro Canobbiana in Milan, was a rousing success. According to Opera America, L'Elisir is one of the most often performed of Donizetti's operas, holding a firm position as the twentieth most popular opera in the United States.

Giuseppe Filianoti as Nemorino and Nino Machaidze as Adina in L A Opera's 'The Elixir of Love'. Photo © 2009 Robert Millard
Giuseppe Filianoti as Nemorino and Nino Machaidze as Adina in L A Opera's 'The Elixir of Love'. Photo © 2009 Robert Millard

On 12 September, Los Angeles Opera opened its 2009-2010 season with a star-studded performance of The Elixir of Love. The plaza outside the theater was festooned with fresh flowers and crystal chandeliers. Upon entering, each ticket holder received a glass of champagne mixed with pomegranate juice. That underscored the gala atmosphere and possibly the idea that the local economy was emerging from recession. Although the production by Stephen Lawless was not new, it had not been seen in Los Angeles in quite some time so it was not overly familiar to much of the audience. Johan Engels' scenery evoked the hard work of nineteenth century farm life with its hay stacks and barn structure. The costumes, too, were simple and in natural colors that could have been seen in a rural setting at that time. Joan Sulliven-Genthe's lighting made onlookers aware of the Italian sun and its benefit to the earth.

Nino Machaidze as Adina and Giorgio Caoduro as Doctor Dulcamara in L A Opera's 'The Elixir of Love'. Photo © 2009 Robert Millard
Nino Machaidze as Adina and Giorgio Caoduro as Doctor Dulcamara in L A Opera's 'The Elixir of Love'. Photo © 2009 Robert Millard

Nino Machaidze was a charming, self-assured Adina who knew she could have any village farm boy she wanted when she sang 'Della crudele Isotta' (of the cruel Isolde). In that scene, she had no compunction about letting Nemorino know that he was at the bottom of her list. Vocally, she took a few moments to get accustomed to the Los Angeles stage, but showed the many colors of her luscious voice thereafter. She had a few battles with intonation, but they may have been due to début nerves and the fact that she is still very young.

Giuseppe Filianoti as Nemorino and Nino Machaidze as Adina in L A Opera's 'The Elixir of Love'. Photo © 2009 Robert Millard
Giuseppe Filianoti as Nemorino and Nino Machaidze as Adina in L A Opera's 'The Elixir of Love'. Photo © 2009 Robert Millard

Our self-effacing Nemorino was Giuseppe Filianoti who has been familiar to Met opera goers since 2005. Like Machaidze, he grew in the part so that by the end of the opera Adina and Nemorino were eminently suitable partners. Filianoti has a gorgeous voice but at this performance he had difficulty controlling it. As a result, some of the less easy-to-reach notes were not as beautiful as they might have been. His main aria, 'Una furtiva lagrima' (a furtive tear), however, was sung with heart and beauty of sound. Kudos, too, to John Steinmetz for the wonderful bassoon playing that accompanied it.

Giorgio Caoduro
Giorgio Caoduro

As the quack medicine man, Dr Dulcamara, Giorgio Caoduro sang with graceful bel canto style and presented an endearing, if somewhat felonious, character. The role is normally sung by a bass and Caoduro is a baritone. His sound was much lighter than expected, but he was a last minute substitute for the injured Ruggero Raimondi. As a result, there was not a great deal of vocal contrast between Dulcamara and Belcore, the lady-killing army sergeant, admirably sung by fellow baritone Nathan Gunn. Looking glorious in a red and white military uniform, Gunn definitely lived up to his reputation as a matinée idol.

Nathan Gunn. Photo © Bill Phelps
Nathan Gunn. Photo © Bill Phelps

Valerie Vinzant who sang Giannetta is a promising second year member of the Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program. She made a fine impression on the main stage and we can hope to see more of her as time goes on.

Valerie Vinzant
Valerie Vinzant

Grant Gershon's chorus seemed slightly underpowered, but they acted their parts with great skill. The most excellent Los Angeles Opera Orchestra was conducted by Music Director James Conlon who brought out all the nuances of Donizetti's infectious melodies. The orchestra played extremely well and the players were most deserving of Maestro Conlon's invitation to join him onstage for a bow. All in all this was a thoroughly enjoyable performance and an auspicious opening for what we hope will be an excellent 2009-2010 season.

Copyright © 20 September 2009 Maria Nockin,
Arizona, USA

-------

GAETANO DONIZETTI

L'ELISIR D'AMORE

LOS ANGELES OPERA

JOHAN ENGELS

GRANT GERSHON

JAMES CONLON

LOS ANGELES

ITALY

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

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Classical Music Programme Notes for concerts and recordings, by Malcolm Miller