Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Elixir of Love

San Francisco Opera
Fri Nov 14 2008 8 pm

Conductor: Bruno Campanella
Director: James Robinson

Adina: Inva Mula
Nemorino: Ramón Vargas
Belcore: Giorgio Caoduro
Dulcamara: Alessandro Corbelli
Giannetta: Ji Young Yang

L'Elisir d'Amore is re-set here as an American pastoral, on the eve of World War I. In place of a curtain we see a scrim painted like a plump Thomas Hart Benton landscape. The scrim fades away to reveal a town square dominated by a large white gazebo. Nemorino operates an ice cream truck. Dr. Dulcamara arrives on a motorcycle with a side-car. Instead of being an undifferentiated crowed, the chorus is made up of individual characters: farmers, merchants, a priest, a girl in overalls, 2 old ladies, a football squad, & several children. I felt like I was looking at toys.

Ramón Vargas is outstanding & gives a complete singing/acting performance. His sound is lovely & his interpretation wonderfully restrained. He makes his points musically, not through belting or making grand gestures. All the principals were right for their parts. I liked Giorgio Caoduro's clean coloratura & his cocky acting as Belcore.

Everyone gets genuinely funny stage business to do. Nemorino has to divert attention from his 1st aria to scoop ice cream. Vargas showed off a surprising skill by throwing a piece of fruit in the air & catching it with his teeth. When the young couple at last come to a loving embrace, Nemorino is still clutching his suitcase to his chest. I laughed out loud quite a bit.

The only thing that bothered me about this performance was the conductor's consistent dragging. I was really worried when the evening began with the orchestra tramping tediously through the overture. The lifeless tempos never improved, but fortunately all the other elements were in place. One would have to be pretty mean not to enjoy this light & tuneful opera.

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