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Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
L’Elisir D’Amore (The Elixir of Love)
Comic Opera in Two Acts
First performed in Milan on 12 May 1832
Adina - Valeria Esposito
Nemorino - Aquiles Machado
Belcore - Enrico Marrucci
Dulcamara - Erwin Schrott
Gianetta - Roberta Canzian
Coro Lirico Marchigiano "V. Bellini"
Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana/Niels Muus
Recorded at the Arena Sferisterio, Macerata, July 2002
TDK DV-OPELAMOR [2DVDs: opera: 136 mins; features: 37 mins]

This breezy, exhilarating production proves that a modern, imaginative opera concept does not necessarily have to be a homage to the twisted eccentricities of self-promoting producers (I am thinking for instance about the abomination that was the recent staging of Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt).

Here the vast arena of the Sferisterio in the Italian hill town of Macerato (seen in the DVD box illustration reproduced above, and celebrated in one of the two succinctly informative documentaries that comprise DVD2 of this set) is used with great creative flair, sympathetic to Donizetti’s original concept. Instead of curtains the audience arrives to face a huge red box (see bottom right hand corner of the same illustration). This contraption splits in two, the halves retracting to left and right extremities of the stage area. Revealed is the orchestra, backstage, bathed in low-level, blue lighting so that the presence of the players is discerned rather than ‘seen’. The performers: principals, chorus and dancers are dressed in bright, neutral or very light peasant/military costumes of the era of the opera - the beginning of the 19th century. Minimal sets at the extremities echo contemporary engravings and look like cardboard cut-outs, so does the quack doctor, Dulcamara’s ox-pulled cart. Stage management is imaginative making full use of the wide stage and even the conductor and orchestra are drawn into the fun (but subtly, unobtrusively).

The acting is first class and the young enthusiastic cast makes the comedy spin along merrily. Valeria Esposito is a very natural Adina whether she is taking shoes and stockings off to bathe her feet in an imaginary stream at the edge of the stage or flirtingly sweeping her hand across the face of a man in the orchestra. She is teasingly capricious, flirty (in her mocking duet with Nemorino, "Chiedi all’aura lusinghiera", but ultimately essentially human and warm-hearted when she tells him that she has bought back his enlistment papers rather than allow him to suffer in the army just to earn the money for the elixir that he thinks might aid her to win her love, "Prendi; per me sei libero". Her frequent demanding coloratura passages are delivered with confidence. Nemorino the simple, shy, ingenuous young farmer who adores Adina is played with beautifully judged comic irony by the chubby Aquiles Machado. His show-stopping aria "Una furtive lagrima", (one of Donizetti’s simplest – shorn of any vocal flourishes - but most affecting melodies) is delivered most affectingly.

Supporting them are: the handsome swaggering Enrico Marrucci as the arrogant Sergeant Belcore who lusts after Adina; Erwin Schrott as the flamboyant, garishly-dressed quack doctor, Dulcamara whose potion (chianti) gives the naïve Nemorino the (unnecessary) Dutch courage to eventually win his love, and Roberta Canzion, an attractive honey-toned lyric soprano who enchants as Adina’s friend, the joyful young Giannetta.

Donizetti’s melodic light-hearted score sparkles of course and the principals’ voices blend well in the frequent ensemble pieces. Just to mention one such memorable number, Dulcamara’s comic "Io son ricco e tu sei bella" (with Adina and choir). Erwin Schrott, a robust-voiced bass-baritone, a really rascally Dulcamara, (who had been urged by conductor, Niels Muss in the ‘Behind the Scenes’ documentary to sound more like an actor, less like a singer, "otherwise its too easy for me to conduct") wears an unkempt grey wig and thick spectacles and sings toothily as the old senator who vainly tries to tempt a young girl with his wealth.

A joyous, sparkling, imaginative production that will appeal to admirers of Donizetti - and the additional ‘behind the scenes’ documentaries are above average too.

Ian Lace

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