08 Mar 2010

Love Triumphs in L’Elisir d’amore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In its current revival of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production showcases the strengths and foibles of humanity, while assuring the ultimate triumph of love.

The bright and festive staging featured, in its opening cast, Nicole Cabell and Giuseppe Filianoti as the pair Adina and Nemorino, whom love finally unites. The rival to Nemorino in his courtship of Adina, Sergeant Belcore, was sung by baritone Gabriele Viviani. Whereas both suitors of Adina are making their debut this season at Lyric Opera, the pivotal role of Doctor Dulcamara, who produces the elixir allegedly causing love, was portrayed by familiar baritone Alessandro Corbelli. The orchestra was conducted by Bruno Campanella.

In it performance of the overture the Lyric Opera Orchestra yielded a firm balance of strings and woodwinds, with the oboe and flutes especially standing out. Campanella led with tempos that allowed for motivic expression of individual segments while maintaining an overall conception of the orchestral flow. The first scene of the opera in this production is bathed in sunlight; the Lyric Opera chorus in its opening number gives the impression of a nineteenth-century village gathering. Nemorino threads his way through the crowd of peasants and townspeople in order to snag a glimpse of his beloved Adnia. She seems to be lost in her reading and, with book in hand, she ascends to an elevated balcony and seeks out space for concentration. In his first solo number, “Quanto √® bella,” [“How beautiful!”] Nemorino details his infatuation with ardent lyricism. Mr Filianoti truly gave such an impression while lacing his verses with an admirable sense for legato. In his appeals to gain access to Adina’s attentions Filianoti relied, perhaps more than needed, on forte expression, a more even balance showing itself once interaction with the other performers began. During the following, parallel aria Adina reveals that the subject of her reading is the story of “Tristan and Isolde” whose boundless love was engendered by a potion. Here Ms. Cabell indicated Adina’s absorption in the tale of the magical love by, at first, an understated approach with spare use of vocal decoration. As Adina continues to muse and wishes that she knew more about the potion, a troop of soldiers enters under the direction of Sergeant Belcore. In his introductory aria he offers a token of admiration to Adina and sings of his own love being tantamount to that of a Classical or mythological model of amor. Mr. Viviani worked his way into this entrance so that his elaborate decoration was securely applied to suggest an image of self-importance by the close of his declaration. Adina does not commit herself as a result of this paean, yet Nemorino feels that he could lose any chance to win her love. By the point of the trio ending this scene all three principals had achieved a vocal and dramatic characterization of their roles and interacted well to express the hauteur of the Sergeant, the desperation of Nemorino, and the coyness of Adina. The duet which follows this exchange features the latter two characters in their first scene alone together. As Adina attempts to dissuade Nemorino from further displays of devotion, he seems willing to neglect even the fortunes of an ailing uncle. Filianoti sang graceful arching lines in his description of the unstoppable flow of the river, in order to describe the futility of trying to stay his emotions [“Chiedi al rio perch√® gemente dalla balza” (“Ask of the river why it parts from its source and fountain”)]. Ms. Cabell’s voice seemed to bloom here as she matched the touching bel canto decoration of her suitor, even though her response to Nemorino essentially denied his entreaties.

In a shift suggesting the scene at the start of the opera numerous villagers collect around the cart of Dr. Dulcamara, who enters from his travels with great spectacle. Mr. Corbelli inhabits the role in all its facets convincingly. From this point until the close of the act Dulcamara’s personality and his influence have an effect on Nemorino’s hopes and behavior. At first Dulcamara brags to the villagers of selling a panacea for any possible ill. Mr. Corbelli handles the doctor’s rapid monologue with idiomatic ease, and he infuses the words with believable posture. Once the townspeople leave, Nemorino asks if a potion to induce love is also sold by the doctor. True to expectations of Dulcmara, a potion akin to Isolde’s is produced: the doctor sells Nemorino a bottle of wine and suggests that he allow a days’ time for the elixir to take effect. In the well-known duet including “Obbligato!” [“Much obliged!”] both Filianoti and Corbelli maintain and enhance their characterizations of a lovelorn youth and a self-serving charlatan. Their challenging vocal lines were delivered crisply and with sufficient independence so that each made a distinct impression while, at the same time, being caught up audibly in the sense of a progressive duet. Nemorino imbibes from the elixir as instructed and he becomes, of course, emboldened in his sense of confidence. When he next sees Adina, Nemorino seems disinterested and he declares that her emotional response will surely be kindled before long. Ironically Belcore enters and presses his suit again. In the trio which concludes Act I Adina agrees, at first, to give her consent to Belcore by the following day. When reminded of the sergeant’s imminent departure, she agrees to a marriage on this very day. Mindful of the doctor’s prediction, Nemorino is now aghast that sufficient time will not have elapsed for Adina’s love to be awakened by the potion. Accompanied by increasingly rapid tempos, all three principals in this production sailed toward the finale while communicating individual emotions as part of a larger canvas in the ensemble. The well-rehearsed chorus contributed to the picture of unexpected dilemmas at the close of the act.

At the start of Act II festivities for the wedding between Adina and Belcore have been set up. While Belcore waits for the marriage document to be signed, Adina regrets the absence of Nemorino. The crowd is entertained by a song performed in duet by Dulcamara and Adina. At this pont Ms. Cabell and Mr. Corbelli engaged in play-acting to suggest the amorous tone of the song, a skillful maneuver which enhanced the tension of love as gradually depicted here in its development. Once the notary arrives to seal the marriage, Adina finds further reason to delay her agreement. She leaves Dulcamara alone at the banquet until Nemorino appears to beg more of the elixir. Since he has no cash to buy the potion, Nemorino sells his time to the army: Belcore gives him twenty crowns in exchange for military service. In these two scenes Filianoti showed a skillful application of vocal colors, first in his exchange with Dulcamara followed by the pointed duet with the sergeant. Once the news that Nemorino’s wealthy relative has passed away is communicated by the village girl Giannetta, the youth returns under the influence of the elixir. In the role of Giannetta, Angela Mannino gave full-voiced lyrical expression to a memorable characterization. Now many of the women in the village vie for Nemorino’s attentions, as Adina must rely on her own charms to settle the emotional quandary. In their final solo numbers of the act both Filianoti and Cabell demonstrated their skills at this repertoire. “Una furtiva lagrima” [“A furtive tear”] was performed with great pathos, a superior command of legato, and an effective use of diminuendo toward the close. Ms. Cabell’s ultimate declaration of her love was sung with appropriate and well-executed decoration as well as carefully observed shifts in tempo during the course of the aria. The assembly of well-wishers provided a happy ending as Dulcamara, initiator of the elixir, departs upon having completed his task.

Salvatore Calomino

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