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Susana Diaz [Photo courtesy of Daroca Artists International]
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L’elisir d’amore, Miami

“The number of recordings testify to the continuing popularity of Donizetti’s melodrama in two acts [L’elisir d’amore], which rivals Don Pasquale among his comic operas and is often rated the better on account of its superior libretto by Felice Romani.”

Gaetano Donizetti: L’elisir d’amore

Adina: Jessica Slatkoff Arteaga / Susana Diaz; Nemorino: David Pereira; Dulcamara: Oscar Martinez; Belcore: Daniel Snodgrass; Gianetta: Rebekah Diaz / Daisy Su; Notaro: Jesus Gonzalez. Miami Lyric Opera. Conductor: Beverly Coulter. Director: Raffaele Cardone. Chorus Master: Pablo Hernandez.

Above: Susana Diaz [Photo courtesy of Daroca Artists International]

All other photos courtesy of Miami Lyric Opera


Noel Goodwin’s observation is as topical today as it was in the early 1990’s: L’elisir shared the rank of sixth most produced opera in 2010 according to records compiled by Opera America; another resource that is gaining more credibility from opera scholars, OperaBase, finds that Donizetti’s bel canto comedy placed 12th on the list of most performed operas in the world from 2005-2010. In the recording (audio and video) annuls, L’elisir has a steady hold as each new generation of star singers commits their artistry to posterity in the work.

Pereira.gifDavid Pereira

Note that Goodwin ascribes credit for L’elisir ‘s hold in the repertoire to Romani’s text. Felice Romani was a librettist’s librettist. He wrote nearly 100, collaborating most notably with Bellini, Rossini, and Donizetti. L’elisir , with a musical surface — from its melodies — best described as lightweight and a base — from Donizetti’s chords — best described as solemn, will transmit its meanings best through words. Perhaps more than in any other opera, the means of its exposition can confuse — L’elisir’s story is primed to be misunderstood. That said, it’s a good thing that Romani’s text for L’elisir is playful, sarcastic and worldly. And, it’s a good thing that supertitles are up and running at Colony Theater for Miami Lyric Opera.

Individual performances brought this L’elisir to life despite listless stage action and sets (by Carlos Arditti) that did little, and indeed this is often the case in this opera’s productions, to lift la commedia. Belcore probably just pulled the weeds he so sloppily shoved in Adina’s hands; she, taking one look at the dry shrubs and, with some annoyance delivered her, “well, isn’t he modest”; Nemorino, packing a few extra pounds after his drinking binge, was a nicely engorged fellow that seemed genuinely altered pitching the line, “I’ve had plenty of this elixir”; the blueprints for laughter were sketched but the whole performance was missing jocular bite in the theater.

On its own, Donizetti’s music for L’elisir is peppered with “shiny happy people” quality, but the feel of the music can suggest a graver situation as it did on the night of August 13th, MLO’s second and final showing of L’elisir. It is not surprising that the orchestra sounded as polished as it did given that MLO music director and conductor Dr. Beverly Coulter was at the baton. A staunch promoter of and regular fixture in the classical music scene in south Florida, maestra Coulter is a musician’s musician. Coulter is the head of an opera program at a small university, having had the likes of soprano Elizabeth Caballero in her studio. Soprano Coulter has a singing CV herself; for MLO, she will repeat the lead in Marina (the Arrieta zarzuela) in a free outdoor concert presented by the company in November.

MLOElisirTrio.gifDavid Pereira (Nemorino), Susana Diaz (Adina), and Belcore (Daniel Snodgrass)

Coulter’s approach leans toward the technical, and she keeps a close watch over the stage; L’elisir’s many ensembles were models in keeping time with singers. The volume produced from instrumentalists was heavy (so much so that crescendos were hard to come by), the orchestral mechanics were tight. The playing included lustrous solo flute (Robert Billington) and harp (Ana Maria Bolivar) playing in the overture. Secco recitatives came from an electronic harpsichord behind the stage.

One factor that helped this evening was the chemistry that built up between principals Susana Diaz (Adina) and David Pereira (Nemorino). Diaz the distant “realist,” Pereira the defocused naïve — they became more involved, more comfortable, and by the end of the first act their teaming turned pleasing. In Adina, Romani created a wily fox. Though easier sung than portrayed, Daiz managed a bit of that in scoffing at Nemorino’s one-woman ways, “try my way, change lovers every day.” Program posters like the exotic good looks that Diaz has and, on the vocal front, she displayed control up to and over high C in a sweet “Prendi, per me sei libero.”

Pereira began the night with a shaky “Quanto è bella, quanto è cara.” Before long though, the light lyric tenor’s timbre warmed and his singing was more secure, although pinched acuti hung about. Lighting specialist Kevin Roman put a spotlight on Pereira to an otherwise darkened stage for “Una furtiva lagrima;” the tenor was hesitant through the first few bars, then getting a hold of the familiar aria, gave it with personal touch.

MLOSnodDiaz.gifBelcore (Daniel Snodgrass and Adina (Susana Diaz)

MLO sported a good singing Belcore and a strong singing-actor as Dulcamara — done spiritedly, either of these roles can easily run away with this show because of the rhyming verse that Romani supplies them. “A woman is a creature who defies understanding,” bemoaned Daniel Snodgrass, whose sound might be confused for a tenor’s. Not a problem for Belcore, whose music Snodgrass sings with strict passage work. Snodgrass gets much work in this area and has been with MLO since its first season. Of all the performers this evening, Oscar Martinez (Dulcamara) appeared to enjoy himself most. His knowledge of the role, and with the buffo aesthetic, is firm. Gianetta sets the tone early in this opera with her words, “what’s so funny?” A past MLO contributor, Daisy Su as Gianetta — Adina’s close friend — did well in her moments at center stage.

Another strength of this L’elisir was the MLO chorus — they sang clearly and strongly and took advantage of their conspicuous presence in the Donizetti opera. Entranced with Adina, they sang out Romani’s Italian for, “let us hear what you are reading.” Congratulations chorus master Pablo Hernandez.

A recent high school graduate with operatic aspirations, Jesus Gonzalez came off as a parody of the notary — the costume (by Pamela De Vercelly), and moustache, hung over Gonzalez a few sizes large. Chorus member Jared Peroune was an high-spirited fez-wearing spotter for Dulcamara.

MLOElisirDulcamara.gifDulcamara (Oscar Martinez)

If Donizetti’s part in L’elisir leaves listeners puzzled vis a vis the point of the story, Romani’s libretto activates the morals to be extracted. That charlatano, that slippery-wise Dulcamara brings you a big one: “It is risky business to try to buy or sell love.”

Robert Carreras

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