Sunday, August 08, 2010

Merola: L’Elisir d’Amore

Merola Opera Program
L’Elisir d’Amore

Conductor - Martin Katz
Director - Nicola Bowie

Nemorino - Alexander Lewis/Daniel Montenegro
Adina - Valentina Fleer
Giannetta - Abigail Santos Villalobos
Belcore - Ao Li
Dulcamara - Sidney Outlaw

Friday, August 7, 8:00 PM
Cowell Theater at Fort Mason Center

On Friday night I attended the 2nd performance of Merola Opera's unashamedly cute production of L’Elisir d’Amore. Even a major cast replacement halfway through act II could not dampen the bright spirit; it simply made the evening more exciting. During the 1st act, Alexander Lewis as Nemorino had to stop momentarily to cough, but, despite signs of trouble, I was completely taken in by his terrific character acting. In the 2nd act he nearly lost his voice, & an announcement was made from the stage that Mr. Lewis was indisposed & that Daniel Montenegro would be stepping in. Mr. Montenegro came on as if he had been singing for us all night. I feel bad that Mr. Lewis had to forgo his big aria, & I hope he will be back in good voice for Sunday's show.

Valentina Fleer's Adina is a steady & confident woman with a voice to match. In the 2nd act she hit a ridiculously high note with seeming ease. Her final duet with Mr. Montenegro's Nemorino was a highlight & got long applause. Apparently, it was the 1st time they had sung it together onstage! Even though Belcore is supposed to be a bullying jerk, Ao Li's cheerful & loose performance made him big-hearted & adorable. I liked his round, comfy sound. Sidney Outlaw, whose Dulcamara sports a great Don King hairdo, really reaches out to an audience & seems to be a theatrical personality by nature.

The production is set in the 1940s, with nice period costumes & hairstyles for the women. Like last year's Così, it starts as a play-within-a-play, but the concept did not make sense to me. The 2nd act takes place against a backdrop of the Bay & the Golden Gate Bridge, which made the occasional sea gull cries from outside seem like ambient sound effects. Cowell Theater continues to be a problematic space for opera. The orchestra basically sits in the auditorium with the audience, making it difficult to play together & to not overpower the singers.

Still, it is pretty much impossible to spoil the fun of this production, with everyone on stage looking like they are having a ball. At the end of the opera, streamers are shot from the wings & confetti flutters down on the audience. When conductor Martin Katz strikes up the orchestra to accompany the curtain calls, it feels like the party is just getting started. & as if the opera itself were not sweet enough, I had mini-cupcakes foisted upon me during intermission by Ms. Ames, in the most pleasant company of The Opera Tattler, ced & Dig Dug. I also had a brief chat with Oboeinsight, who had to endure an errant hearing aid for much of the performance.

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