An Almodóvar-style 'Elisir d'Amore'
from Valencia and Palermo,
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
When I reviewed a Venetian production of Gaetano Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore [A Real Surprise, M&V 3 November 2010], I thought it useful to recall that several opera guidebooks treat this specific work as a comic opera or even an opera buffa on the grounds that, during the decades when Donizetti's operas were nearly forgotten, L'Elisir never left the repertory because it is pure comedy with two hilarious characters (Dulcamara and Belcore) and a gentle young couple in love (even though, almost until the end, she pretends not to be interested in the fellow). Also the orchestration seems comparatively easy, as it used to be the opera buffa canon. Nonetheless, L'Elisir is called by its very authors melodramma giocoso, which means a semi seria opera like Rossini's La Gazza Ladra, Paisiello's Nina Pazza per Amore, Mayr's Lodoiska and Bellini's La Sonnambula. It was a category of musical theatre very popular at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Donizetti composed several semi-seria operas, such as Linda di Chamonix and Il Furioso nell'Isola di San Domingo. The gender pleased the audience during difficult times (wars, revolutions, social and political turmoil) because it combines drama with comic relief. It is a very hard balance to reach for all the stakeholders involved in staging L'Elisir because the dramatic and comic elements are carefully mixed, indeed intertwined. After its premiere in the Teatro alla Canobbiana in Milan in 1832, L'Elisir reached all major and minor Italian theatres, where it was Donizetti's most frequently performed opera until 1848. It reached Berlin as Der Liebenstrank in 1834, Vienna in 1835, London in 1836, New York in 1838 and Paris in 1839. Briefly, a major international hit in the very years when its author was becoming increasingly mentally sick.
Paolo Bordogna as Dulcamara with extras, in Donizetti's 'L'elisir d'amore' in Palermo. Photo © 2012 Franco Lannino. Click on the image for higher resolution
It was revived in 1900 at La Scala by Arturo Toscanini himself; since then, it has been seen all over, every year. Just a few months ago, I reviewed a Teatro dell'Opera (Rome)/San Francisco Opera production which had been entrusted to Ruggero Capuccio (stage direction), Nicola Rubertelli (stage sets) and Carlo Poggioli (costumes), quite well-known for experimental and highly dramatic theatre (such as Shakespeare's King of Naples) or social-political theatre (Paolo Borsellino, Essendo Stato) but with the musical direction of Bruno Campanella, a Donizetti's veteran. The musical and the stage directions keep the proper balance between drama and comedy required in a melodramma giocoso [Drama and Comedy, M&V, 7 February 2011].
Desirée Rancatore as Adina and Celso Albelo as Nemorino in Donizetti's 'L'elisir d'amore' in Palermo. Photo © 2012 Franco Lannino. Click on the image for higher resolution
I would not quite make the same judgment about this new production by Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia in Valencia and the Teatro Massimo in Palermo. I saw and heard, on 12 June 2012, the opening night of the Palermo performances. The staging is entrusted to one of the best known of the Italian team of the younger generation: Damiano Michieletto (director), Paolo Fantin (stage sets) and Silvia Aymonimo (costumes). Next August they will stage Puccini's La bohème (sold out since March) at the Salzburg Summer Festival; the opera's plot will develop in a contemporary shopping center. In L'Elisir, the action is moved from a quiet Basque village around 1830 to a crowded beach today. It seems like an Almodóvar movie depicting a 'happy-go-lucky' Spain before the current financial and economic crisis. Nemorino is a rather stupid beach attendant, Adina the arrogant owner and manager of a beach restaurant and cabins, Belcore a sex-starved womanizer and Dulcamara a pusher of 'magic potion' as well as of drugs. The action is swift, the colors very flashy, and there are plenty of gags. At the start of the evening, the Palermo audience seemed to have mixed feelings, but as the plot unfolded they enjoyed it and erupted in open stage applause and ovations after the 'romanza' Una Furtiva Lacrima by Nemorino and the 'rondò' Il Mio Rigor Dimentica by Adina. They missed, of course, the irony, the parody of Metastasio's librettos, the sweetness, the social critique and especially the very hymn to tolerance in the astute Felice Roman's text and in the shrewd Donizetti's score (a real study in well balanced contrasts).
Desirée Rancatore as Adina and Mario Cassi as Belcore in Donizetti's 'L'elisir d'amore' in Palermo. Photo © 2012 Franco Lannino. Click on the image for higher resolution
The music director, Paolo Arrivabeni, did not seem to mind about what was going on dramaturgically; he is a well experienced conductor; he kept a good balance between the pit and the stage, and gave to the musical aspects the flair of a bucolic variant of the 'male Cinderella myth' -- quite distant from the rather sexy farce on stage.
Celso Albelo as Nemorino and Paolo Bordogna as Dulcamara in Donizetti's 'L'elisir d'amore' in Palermo. Photo © 2012 Franco Lannino. Click on the image for higher resolution
Desirée Rancatore and Celso Albelo have often sung Adina and Nemorino together; I reviewed them for M&V in November 2010 after a performance in Venice. Then, Albelo was a real discovery; since then, he has gained a few pounds, has expanded his volume and darkened his timbre slightly (although he's still very clear). He acts and even dances much more easily. Rancatore is a veteran of the role; in Palermo she is playing 'home'; she was born there and her father has had a long career in the orchestra of Teatro Massimo. Both Mario Cassi (Belcore) and Paolo Bordogna (Dulcamara) were excellent as singers, as actors and as dancers.
Copyright © 17 June 2012 Giuseppe Pennisi,
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