Sarasota native Adelaide Boedecker stars in Donizetti comic opera
‘The Elixir of Love’: By Gaetano Donizetti, poetry by Felice Romani. Conducted by John F. Spencer IV, directed by Marco Nistico. Reviewed Feb. 22, Sarasota Opera, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. Through March 21. 941-328-1300; sarasotaopera.org
Gaetano Donizetti composed more than 70 operas in less than 30 years, was at the pinnacle of the Bel Canto movement and is said to have written “The Elixir of Love” in just eight days (or 15, according to some).
He wasn’t particularly optimistic about his opening night cast of “Elixir,” but the opera was lavishly praised at its May 12, 1832, premiere. Over the years, Donizetti clearly came to understand the formula for operatic success — a good theatrical libretto; several great voices; begin with a charming sinfonia, then slowly add the choir; hold back the entrance of the prima donna, then go for it; bring on the passion, love, jealousy and, finally, add a pinch of humor. Lather, rinse, repeat.
“L’elisir d’amore,” one of the most popular Donizetti operas, follows this formula to the letter. Some companies take liberties to mix things up, as Nic Muni did for the Academy of Vocal Arts in 2012 by setting the opera during World War II and making Sergeant Belcore a member of Mussolini’s army.
Sarasota Opera’s production is decidedly true to the original with no cutting-edge or contemporary concept. The scenery by Roger Hanna is traditional and sumptuous, with a lovely painted backdrop of the Basque hills behind a storybook set that looks like it was used for Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” a fairytale brought to life. With the lovely costumes by Howard Tsvi Kaplan , the evening is a feast for the eyes.
The opera finds Nemorino (a delightful Geoffrey Agpalo), a poor farmer, in love with Adina (a lovely Adelaide Boedecker), who seems to ignore him. Belcore (Alex DeSocio) is a visiting soldier; and Dr. Dulcamara (Stephano de Peppo) a traveling quack doctor who sells potions. Nemorino joins the army to gain the enlistment bounty, which he spends on Dulcamara’s elixir (which is actually just cheap wine). As he’s about to join the regiment, Nemorino spots a tear in Adina’s eye and realizes that she loves him, too. This cues his singing of one of the most famous of all arias, “Una furtiva lagrima” (One furtive tear), which stopped Saturday’s opening peformance.
The scenario unfolds with charm and fine musicianship. Agpalo, a tenor, sings “Una furtiva” with a gorgeous tone, delicate shading and lyricism. He has a seemingly effortless voice, frothy, consistently clear and solid, displaying superb dynamics. And he delivers a nuanced performance, portraying Nemorino as a nebbish, loving and lovable, providing the heart of the opera by being the one soul who understands the true meaning of love.
As Adina, Boedecker not only has the fine coloratura necessary for Donizetti but turns in a nice comedic performance that connects with the audience. It is a fun romp, presenting a flawed character who could be easy to dislike in lesser hands. As Segeant Belcore, DeSocio struts appropriately like the proverbial self-assured peackcock. De Peppo is hilarious as the quack doctor with the electric streak of silver in his dark hair, and Elizabeth Novella as Adina’s friend, Giannetta, rounds out the cast with a rich voice and fine comic timing.
Each of these characterizations and comic situations emerges without neglecting musical matters. Every note is well placed, the intricate embellishments are accurate and the tones are clear as a bell. A certain vocal quality is needed to sing Donizetti, requiring flexibility and clarity for the impeccable coloratura phrases.
The production is beautifully directed by Marco Nistico, who mines every comic moment Donizetti provided in the original libretto and then some.
The excellent orchestra conducted by John F. Spencer IV is a jewel, and sounds rich when needed, yet delicate when required. The fabulous chorus is a powerhouse. This must be what heaven sounds like, to have a wall of sound coming at you, almost to the point where it moved my hair. The chorus also acts convincingly, a refreshing touch on an opera stage.
There is something refreshing about revisiting an old “warhorse” like “Elixir” and seeing it brought to life with new eyes and pure joy.