In Review > North America

L'Elisir d'Amore

SALT LAKE CITY
Utah Opera
3/10/12

On March 10, Utah Opera offered James Robinson's well-traveled production of Gaetano Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore, its concept and set seemingly ripped from the pages of Meredith Willson's The Music Man. The show thrived with engaging chemistry, but didn't always connect musically. 

Salt Lake's Capitol Theatre was barely large enough to accommodate Robinson's bucolic, early-twentieth-century production, with Allen Moyer's gingerbread-trimmed bandstand set and Alice Bristow's detailed period costumes. Nemorino, sung by lyric tenor Aaron Blake and cast as a confectioner, drove onto the stage in a vintage ice-cream truck to the delight of the villagers — Utah Opera Chorus members, who were often wedged together shoulder to shoulder. Later, Rod Nelman, as the elixir-shilling traveling salesman Dulcamara, showed up on a motorcycle with his assistant in a sidecar, taking up the stage's last available real estate. Nelman's arresting charisma and big, pliant voice buoyed each of his scenes. 

The production's concept added visual interest and sophomoric sight-gag opportunities, especially with a group of leather-helmet-clad football players and a boxing scene between Nemorino and Belcore, played with on-the-nose hubris and vocal swagger by baritone Andrew Wilkowske as a World War I-era army sergeant. 

Chemistry sparked between Blake and soprano Anya Matanovič as Adina. Their flirtation ebbed and flowed sensibly with stage director Crystal Manich's light-handed guidance. Matanovič's lyric voice accurately traversed the composer's bel canto score with sparkling purity, and her engaging duets with Blake and Nelman were some of the evening's highlights.

Blake's "Una furtive lagrima" was touching and plaintive, with pristine top notes but showed some rasp in the middle register during the cadenza. His developing technique needs time to catch up to his naturally compelling dramatic delivery.

Utah Opera resident artist Jennie Litster, as Giannetta, delighted the audience with her appealing soprano, her colorful tone floating easily over the orchestra as she spread the news that Nemorino's uncle had died, leaving him a fortune.

On the podium, Utah Opera chorus master Susanne Sheston started with a rather shapeless overture and an opening chorus that lacked vitality. Later in the act, Nelman seemed to tug at the orchestra to keep up during his first tongue-twisting aria, "Udite, udite, o rustici." But the pace improved in Act II, although Sheston's often unrestrained orchestra regularly swallowed principals, especially Blake's under-powered vocals. Fortunately, most of the singing took place on or near the stage apron, allowing singers a fighting chance. spacer

ROBERT COLEMAN



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