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Gaetano Donizetti: L'Elisir d'amore
07 Aug 2009

Donizetti: L'Elisir d'amore

For adherents of the prima voce school of opera appreciation, this Laurent Pelly production of Donizetti's comic masterpiece may not hold that much appeal.

Gaetano Donizetti: L'Elisir d'amore

Aleksandra Zamojska, Laurent Naouri, Paul Groves, Heidi Grant Murphy, Ambrogio Maestri. Paris Opera Chorus, Paris Opera Orchestra. Edward Gardner, conducting.

Bel Air Classiques BAC040 [DVD]

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The singers delivery professional performances, and rising conductor Edward Gardner treats Donizetti’s score to an energetic, vibrant workover. The greatest impression and delight, however, comes from Pelly’s cinematic detail and his natural, inspired work with the leads and chorus. This DVD could become a textbook chapter on how to make singers live in their characters whether singing or not, while supplying a stage picture that captures the attention without fussy activity or distractions. Possessing charm and sensitivity, and fantasy and realism, Pelly’s L’Elisir d’amore makes for a very fine show.

Pelly updates the action to a farm town sometime in the mid-20th century. With the two strawberry-haired American leads, Paul Groves and Heidi Grant Murphy, we might almost be in Kansas, Dorothy - especially with all the haystacks, a mountain of which feature in the opening and closing scenes. However, the language on the buildings and vehicles remains Italian. Pelly designed the costume himself, favoring simple print dresses for the ladies and keeping Groves’s Nemorino in worn khakis and a stained striped t-shirt throughout. In the warm aura provided by Jöel Adam’s lighting, the sets of Chantal Thomas appear real, lived-in.

Wearing a perpetually stupefied look on his wide face, Groves plays Nemorino as none-too-bright, as the libretto demands, and yet so sweet and lovestruck that Adina’s eventual turn toward him and away from the strutting bantam rooster of Laurent Naouri’s Belcore makes perfect sense. Adina doesn’t have a lot of choices in men, and maybe that’s why Pelly has her isolate herself, seeking refuge in the mammoth haystack pile to read her book under the shade of an umbrella. Grant Murphy doesn’t play it cute - her Adina has an edge, and surely part of Nemorino’s attraction stems from a realization that he will need a strong woman by his side. As usually happens, scenes get stolen by the singer portraying Dulcamara, the traveling salesman who provides the title libation that gives Nemorino the liquid fortification to proclaim his love for Adina. Ambrogio Maestri is a big man with a wonderfully supple comic face. His adipose-rich bass voice makes for the performance’s best singing.

Naouri barks a bit too much as Belcore, and neither Groves or Grant Murphy have the most alluring of voices. Groves has reached a point where the freshness of his lyric voice has been supplanted by volume. As a result, “Una furtiva lagrima” is not the showstopper it usually is. Grant Murphy also seems to be relying on projection more than agility to make her points.

At curtain call, perhaps unsurprisingly, the biggest hand goes to young conductor Edward Gardner, who has led the forces of the Paris Opera with such tyro enthusiasm.

Donizetti and librettist Felice Romani’s work can be swamped by too much comic invention, and it can also seem too slight in an unimaginative traditional production. Pelly gets it right - the humor, the humanity, the heat. Recommended.

Chris Mullins

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