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In Review > North America

L’Elisir d’Amore

PORTLAND, OR
Portland Opera
7/17/15

A VIBRANT, TIGHTLY COHESIVE, perfectly cast Elisir d’Amore—sung in Italian but set in the American West—capped Portland Opera’s fiftieth anniversary season (seen July 17).  This season was Portland’s last spread over most of a year and its first to stretch past May with productions in June and July. That transitional extension should help prepare Portlanders for the company’s first concentrated May-August season in 2016. It augurs well that the June (The Rake’s Progress) and July (Elisir) productions were Portland Opera’s two strongest in years.

Elisir had a festival quality: it sounded and looked thoroughly rehearsed, with precise timing (comic and otherwise), brisk tempos and no first-night pit-stage coordination issues. Nicholas Fox, Portland Opera’s chorus master and assistant conductor, was on the podium for the first time here. He, the orchestra and the singers were scintillating in Elisir’s several whirlwind ensembles, especially the trio. Though the production benefitted much from the intimacy of the 880-seat Newmark Theatre, pit size led consequentially to use of an orchestral edition by Bryan Higgins, to an orchestra of just twenty-five, to thin string tone, to lack of aural warmth.

Warmth came instead from Don Crossley’s lighting: whenever Nemorino turned sentimental, the light softened to a glow and the sky turned Arizona-sunset pink—which could be taken straight or as an amusing, ironic touch. (At the other extreme, Dulcamara and Adina’s play-within-a-play barcarolle stood out with lurid, low-angled lighting.) Pre-show publicity made much of the Western setting without noting that Portland Opera’s first Elisir, in 1975, also was set there, as many other Elisirs have been. But as fine as Curt Enderle’s new sets and Christianne Myers’s used costumes were, stage director Ned Canty went well beyond weathered wooden buildings and telling cowboy hats (Adina’s sharp and stylish, Nemorino’s worse for wear): he created a closely integrated, credible, loving community. Nemorino did not stand out as star tenor or village idiot or town clown; Adina wasn’t aloof or above anyone else. Two fetching supers who hung around the saloon like Auntie’s “nieces” in Peter Grimes fit right in with the chorus, fully accepted by the townsfolk whatever trade they plied. The action was so vivid that I rarely looked away, but hearty laughter welcomed Canty’s supertitles in Old-West-speak (Dulcamara: “time to get out of Dodge”).

Tenor Matthew Grills, a 2012 Met National Council Auditions winner, was a genuinely humble Nemorino who was particularly eloquent singing softly: “Una furtiva lagrima” was all one could want and won a huge ovation, but it was his simple pianissimo “Oh gioia!” that jerked my furtive tear. The strong-willed Adina was Katrina Galka, more coloratura than lyric soprano, her tone bright and lean, but she inflected so precisely that Adina’s every emotion could be heard, including an infusion of warmth when she capitulated. Grills and Galka occasionally ornamented their singing. Baritones Alexander Elliott, an oaken-voiced, confidence-radiating Belcore, and Steven Condy, a ripe-toned, text-relishing Dulcamara, were ideal. Mezzo Valery Saul was an expressive, life-of-the-party Giannetta. Every one of them looked his or her part. The chorus of twelve seemed right for the theater and orchestra size. —Mark Mandel

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