I found the current Met revival of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore an entirely pleasant bit of fun. It is probably the most popular example of bel canto, the light, florid style of early 19th Century Italian opera. In it, poor peasant Nemorino is in love with beautiful landowner Adina, who torments him with her indifference. Travelling quack doctor Dulcamara arrives on the scene, and Nemorino asks Dulcamara if he has a love potion. Dulcamara happily sells Nemorino a bottle (really just cheap Bordeaux wine, he admits in an aside).
Director Bartlett Sher soft-sells the comedy in this production, emphasizing instead the pastoral and romantic elements with leisurely physicality and earthy coloring. He also works in subtle hints of the social unrest that Italy felt the whole century as it struggled toward unification and independence.
Soprano Andriana Chuchman makes a charming Met debut as the lovely and flighty Adina. Tenor Ramón Vargas gives a full throated, expressive performance as the love-struck Nemorino. My personal favorite, though, is Erwin Schrott’s eccentric and compellingly comic performance as Dulcamara, playing him as a bit of a dandy and peacock, which totally works for this persuasive mountebank.
If I am less than over the moon about this L’Elisir, it’s probably more due to bel canto not really being my thing than to any innate flaws. I like the more satirical operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan for comedy, and in general prefer opera with more edge than L’Elisir possesses. It’s perfectly fine, just finally a little too frothy for me.
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