Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Ramón Vargas (Nemorino) and Inva Mula (Adina) [Photo by Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera]
09 Nov 2008

L’elisir d’amore in San Francisco

There are remnants of snobbery in San Francisco that are happiest when San Francisco Opera associates itself with the likes of Vienna State Opera and Covent Garden, and left positively frightened at the idea of a production from Opera Colorado/Fort Worth Opera/et al. on the War Memorial Opera House stage.

G. Donizetti: The Elixir of Love

Adina (Inva Mula), Nemorino (Ramón Vargas), Belcore (Giorgio Caoduro), Dulcamara (Alessandro Corbelli), Giannetta (Ji Young Yang). San Francisco Opera. Bruno Campanella, conductor. James Robinson, director.

Above: Ramón Vargas (Nemorino) and Inva Mula (Adina)

All photos by Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera

 

Our worst fears came true at the opening of L’elisir d’amore when the curtain rose to reveal a bandstand right out of a Kansas farm town sitting center stage, instilling the dread that it was going to sit there all night. It did.

The joke was on us. The singers, looking like they were stepping out of a retro production of Oklahoma, were absolutely dripping with the credits that comfort all opera snobs. In fact you asked yourself how all this high operatic horsepower could find itself in the middle of Republican, mid-western America. But a Mexican tenor, an Albanian soprano, two Italian buffos, even a Korean soubrette stepped right out onto that bandstand and made Oklahoma or Nebraska their own.

Elixir_SFO_068.pngGiorgio Caoduro (Belcore)
It was a perfect fit. This edition of Donizetti’s one hundred seventy five year old opera about rustics in Northern Spain had all the trappings of pre-World War I rural America as envisioned by American stage director Jim Robinson. What we saw was was not the Midwest as illustrated by this scenery for earlier versions of the Robinson production, but a special San Francisco version. In fact it was “Harvest Day” celebration in Napa Valley. Albanian soprano Inva Mula was “Crush Queen,” and we were quickly swept into the wine country flow.

The Elixir of Love (as it was named in San Francisco even though it was sung in Italian and should have been called L’elisir d’amore) is a perfectly constructed little “numbers” opera. The plot is carefully made so that the succession of arias, duets and trios is foremost an opportunity for singers to show their stuff and then coincidentally a means by which to move this nineteenth century sentimental opera buffa story along. All this happened with the utmost ease, the grace of bel canto echoed in the grace by which sight gag after sight gag flowed throughout the evening, footballs sailing in great arches across the back of the stage during the first act finale.

Life was good in those old days, pleasures were simple — apple pies, layer cakes and ice cream sundaes. Bel canto is a downright delicious confection too, so all this went into the same pot. Nemorino and Adina were as interested in ice cream as they were in each other, Belcore devoured an entire apple pie, Dr. Dulcamara picked at leftover tidbits of fried chicken and potato salad from the potluck. And through all of this gourmandaise, Italian conductor Bruno Campanella, another star of bel canto, never missed a beat, keeping the singers in musical rapture from the first note to the last.

Elixir_SFO_134.pngAlessandro Corbelli (Dulcamara)

These were the really old days when even simple country folk could afford (almost) a Napa cabernet. Nemorino, Mexican tenor Ramón Vargas, downed his two bottles and never faltered from consummate Italian tenorial schooling, even while dancing the two step, a tango or the doing the Lindy. Not to mention the consummate charm he exuded while catching a flying piece of apple in his open mouth.

Soprano Inva Mula is no shrinking violet. With her girlish figure and full scale vocalism she easily took center stage as the town diva, relentlessly teasing Nemorino while being swept off her feet (literally) by the irresistible Belcore. The pleasures she brought to the bandstand were as much her fine, rich, very stylish singing as was her warm, natural presence. This Adina was never coy, she was always intensely vocal as a bel canto diva should be.

The role of the lady killer Sargent Belcore was an easy fit for young Italian baritone Giorgio Caoduro, his swagger a natural one, his fluid baritone breaking into Donizetti’s giddy coloratura with utmost ease, communicating an inborn sense of fun, a strong dedication to Italianate high style, and a go-for-broke physicality when he ended up tackled under a pile of his recruits (the high-school football team) or doubled over, punched in the nuts by Nemorino.

Too often San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellows are thrown into important roles before they are mature enough to take them on. Not so the Gianetta of Ji Young Yang. Here is a charming, finished singer who will soon be an Adina in her own right.

Elixir_SFO_494.pngA scene from Act II

The purple suited shyster Dr. Dulcamara, bass-baritone Alessandro Corbelli, exploited his native Italian to the fullest, every syllable flying across the pit into the house, making his Italian so understandable that it seemed to pass for real American. The lively, inventive San Francisco Opera Chorus that eagerly lined up to buy the elixir seemed as delighted and gullible as was the audience, clearly eating up every nuance of bel canto and Americana. And finally it dawned on Dr. Dulcamara, as Robert Mondavi was just then learning and we all now know, that he had the best elixir around — a Napa cabernet.

It is all to rare that productions by American directors find there way onto major American stages. James Robinson gave San Francisco audiences enjoyment that was specifically American, designer Allen Moyer provided brilliant, minimalist scenery with subtle detail that was as delicious as Donizetti’s coloratura. Yet another American, costume designer Martin Pakledinaz, though no stranger to big-time international opera, gave us costumes worthy of Broadway. Central to the success of this fine production were the supertitles written by Jerry Sherk and Francesca Zambello.

Michael Milenski

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):