Buy the Perfume of Love

Academy of Music – Kimmel Center of the Performing Arts, Philadelphia.

Gaetano Donizetti (Music) and Felice Romani (Text). Production from the Santa Fe Opera.

Adina, Sarah Shafer; Nemorino, Dimitri Pittas; Sergeant Belcore, Craig Verm; Doctor Dulcama-ra, Kevin Burdette and Gianetta, Katrina Thurman. Conductor: Corrado Rovaris. Director: Stephen Lawless. Chorus Master: Elizabeth Braden. Set & Costume Design: Ashley Martin-Davis. Wig & Make-up Design: David Zimmerman. Stage Manager: Becki Smith. Lighting Design: Pat Collins.

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This fresh Production by the Santa Fe Opera, presents a youthful performance targeting a new young public. The young singers and non-singing supernumeraries project joy through all their pores. Children, chorus singers, soloists and supernumeraries all generate a lot of fun that makes me believe that the opera will continue from generation to generation.

This production is set in the late forties, after the Second World War, in a small American town, where Nemorino is a mechanic, Adina is a school teacher, Belcore is an American officer and the doctor is a captivating and skillful traveling salesman who has a very creative strategy for selling his Elixir of Love.

Eschewing a curtain, the stage reveals a large billboard showing an ad for the Elixir della Vitta, with a smiling woman in the style of the times. The stage backdrop is blue depicting a summer landscape.

On the right of the stage, it is the mechanic’s shop with a period car and a racy calendar with pretty women
hanging on the wall. On the left, a young teacher, Adina, appears next to a slate board teaching a class to a group of children, some listening attentively while others make jokes.

The characters’ personalities are well-drawn. Adina is clearly a very brainy, proper woman who can take charge of a situation. She demonstrates a kind of superiority in front of the flighty Nemorino. Nemorino is sweet and tender, but controlled by his romantic passions. The doctor as a proficient and crafty salesman of his elixir, notwithstanding that he knows it is snake oil. Of course, Nemorino, frustrated by his apparently unrequited love for Adina believes the doctor and gives him all the money he has for a bottle of the elixir. To our surprise, and the doctor’s too, the brew appears to work. Comedy in shoes.

All the singers proved excellent actors and their movements were very well choreographed. The children’s chorus and the opera chorus generally, give magnificent performances enhancing the production. The young Shafer, as Adina, doesn’t sing the extreme high-note version of the part and her volume is only moderate, but she handles the role very well with a fabulous technique in the legato and excellent intonation. A recent graduate of Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, this promising singer surely has a beautiful career ahead. The conducting of Corrado Rovaris balances well the power of the orchestra with the capacity of the singers assuring clarity throughout the performance.

I remember Dimitri Pittas’ excellent performance in Don Carlo at Opera Philadelphia recently. Here, as Nemorino, he provides another fine performance. He resolves the difficulties of the character professionally and has a really beautiful voice, tender and virile at the same time. Katrina Thurman as Gianetta has a stirring voice. Craig Verm, as Sergeant Belcore, also has a strong voice and interpretation. Kevin Burdette as the doctor Dulcamara, shows impressive control of his character and his voice, with magnificent projection over the orchestra: an experienced voice.

One of the most entertaining moments was the appearance of Opera Philadelphia Artistic Director David Devan  dressed in leathers as a supernumerary riding onto the stage on a roaring motorcycle. The next time he rode on stage he wore the costume of a priest, revealing his true nature. The audience, recognizing him, burst into laughter.

The program includes an interview with conductor Corrado Rovaris, who informs us that Donizetti operas contain a touch of melancholy along with a delightful humor. He also said that this sort of opera is emotional with a sentimental nature, in a style called melodrama giocoso. He says that clearly Elixir Of Love is not an Opera Buffa. Rovaris further says: “This opera is about everyday peasant life… Donizetti made use of three trombones which added a rustic flavor that perfectly depicts the peasant world. There are not many notations in the score (indicating dynamics, expression, etc.) so you have to know the style intimately in order to convey the right meaning.

The philosophy at Opera Philadelphia is to provide gifted young singers with the opportunity to gain professional experience on our stage as they grow in ability and confidence. This opera is an ideal opera for young singers, because three of the major characters are of a similar age. Each of these singers is now performing leading roles at major opera houses in the U.S and abroad.”

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