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The Metropolitan Opera
Ambrogio Maestri makes his entrance in Sher’s new Elisir staging
© Johan Elbers 2012
Kwiecien, Bird, Polenzani and Netrebko at the Met
© Beatriz Schiller 2012
Netrebko vamps Maestri in the Met’s new Elisir
© Beth Bergman 2012
Glorious singing was the principal ornament of the Metropolitan Opera's new production of L'Elisir d'Amore, which had its gala premiere on September 24, the opening night of the company's one-hundred-twenty-eighth season. Ever since Enrico Caruso sang Nemorino at the opera's Met premiere, in 1904, New York audiences have regarded Elisir as a nonpareil tenor showcase. Matthew Polenzani, in his first local performance of Donizetti's love-besotted young farmer, scored full marks for his shrewdly paced yet unaffectedly lyric delivery of "Quanto è bella" and "Una furtiva lagrima," the latter especially impressive for the tenor's connection to text and his deft coloring of repeated words and phrases. Also welcome was Polenzani's rare ability to maintain the profile of his handsome mid-size tenor in ensemble without sounding forced or pushed. "Mi sprezza il sergente" — Nemorino's section of the hectic Act I finale — was sung with as much care and point as the character's big solos.
In her second season-opening production premiere at the Met in as many seasons, Anna Netrebko offered some superb vocalism, with pride of place going to Adina's "Prendi, per me sei libero," which was perfectly poised and gorgeously colored from the very first note. Netrebko's voice has grown in size and power in the past few years, but her delivery of Adina's admission of love was scaled with admirable tenderness and delicacy. Although Netrebko seemed somewhat unmoored dramatically in Act I of Elisir — twirling is not really a fitting device to express joy when playing an adult — it is impossible to resist the warmth and generosity of her singing when she is at her best. Few artists connect with an audience with Netrebko's uncomplicated purity of purpose and sheer star-power. The soubrette role of Adina is perhaps no longer an ideal vehicle for a soprano of Netrebko's queen-sized gifts and robust vitality, but she delivered a performance of genuine charm and authority.
Mariusz Kwiecien — surely the most attractive Belcore in recent memory — brought a dash of wit and sexy swagger to the conceited sergeant, given a nastier edge than usual in this production, in which Belcore and his soldiers physically rough up the unfortunate Nemorino. Ambrogio Maestri was a stylish, sly Dulcamara, whose physical and vocal delivery of the quack doctor's patter was appropriately juicy. Anne-Carolyn Bird was a lovely-looking but thin-sounding Giannetta. Donald Palumbo's chorus sounded marvelous, per usual, but was awkwardly deployed in several key moments, including Dulcamara's entrance. Maurizio Benini's conducting, especially in ensembles, was over-brisk in Act I but more moderately considered in the big Act II solos.
The new Elisir sporteddesigns that were deliberately old-fashioned: Michael Yeargan's sets were inspired by the work of British designer Oliver Messel (1904–78), who designed Le Nozze di Figaro and Ariadne auf Naxos at the Met during the Rudolf Bing years. Catherine Zuber contributed fetching costumes, save for an unattractive Lady Gay Spanker-type ensemble, complete with top hat, that Adina wore for much of the show.
Director Bartlett Sher's production scheme was devised with the intention — covered in detail in the Elisir program — of introducing the uneasy atmosphere of the Risorgimento, the development of Italian independence in the nineteenth century, into the world of Donizetti's melodramma giocoso, with Belcore's troops meant to suggest the occupying Austrian army. Seriousness of purpose, especially in comedy, is admirable, but the political allusions here — as in the bullying behavior of the soldiers — registered as an affectation, however well-researched, and were a poor fit for a sweet, sentimental comic romance.
F. PAUL DRISCOLL
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