A perfect cure all for the winter blues, the concluding performance of Virginia Opera’s "The Elixir of Love" at the Dominion Energy Center Sunday, Feb. 24 delivered a rousing joyful experience, providing bawdiness and silliness in abundance, and moments of tenderness in just the proper measure.
This production showcased the Virginia Symphony Orchestra conducted by Adam Turner as an invisible star, bursting with vitality, lifting the singers with its razor-sharp rhythmic pace and carrying them aloft on its buoyant spirit.
The production was also a directorial tour-de-force by Kyle Lang that consistently delighted with his choices, large and small.
Gaetano Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love was composed in 1832, and yet its themes of human hopes and dreams remains strikingly accurate today.
The opera opens with a scene featuring the beautiful landowner Adina, who is tickled by the story of Tristan and Isolde, and the idea that a potion can make someone fall in love with another. A simple farmer, Nemorino, pines for her, but she acts bored with his repeated attentions. Nemorino, after hearing how things worked out for Tristan, wishes something could make Adina fall for him.
The fun begins with the entrance of Sergeant Belcore and his troops. In the first of many astute comedic choices, Lang choreographs the entrance of the troops not as a stern, disciplined march, all upright and stiff, but with an air of dance floor ridiculousness. The soldiers unearth some moves that reminiscent of both Monty Python and Magic Mike, and the joie de vivre and supreme confidence of Belcore immediately summons the spirit of Gilbert and Sullivan. As Belcore, Corey Crider boasts a rich sonorous voice, but it is his liberated acting as a man any woman would swoon for that makes him impossible to ignore.
While Belcore and his soldiers have gotten the community aflutter, things really lift off with the presence of Dr. Dulcamara, a medicine show salesman hawking an incredible elixir, who arrives in “Wizard of Oz” fashion by hot air balloon. As Dulcamara, Matthew Burns delights with his own over the top persona, and the list of ailments fixed by his elixir draws a fevered rush of purchases. Interestingly, his list is strikingly similar to the advertisements one sees all the time these days – increased attractiveness, energy, vitality and youthfulness, smoother skin, loss of anxiety, the banishment of sadness and more. Nemorino wants a love potion to work on Adina. Dulcamara assures him: it will do that, too.
As Adina, Cecilia Violetta Lopez, is a pure joy. She imbues the character with an effervescent charisma, and her persona is so light-hearted she seems as if she would be singing all the time even if this weren’t opera. Her voice cuts through all the ensemble work and stands out consistently with its power, precision and tone.
In the second act, April Martin, as Giannetta, ushers in one of the stand out moments of the production. As she shares the news that Nemorino’s wealthy uncle has recently passed away, leaving him a fortune, every gal in town goes wild imagining how she will secure his affections. While the female chorus is outstanding throughout the show, vocally and with its bawdy physicality, this scene is a show stopper, with each member silently, physically, articulating her own wiles and lures to capture his heart.
The vocal moment of the show, however, belongs to Carlos Enrique Santelli as Nemorino, with his aria “Una furtiva lagrima.” For this moment, Lang adroitly strips everything else away, leaving Santelli alone on stage, focusing our attention on the beauty of the melody, and the humanity of the longing in Nemorino’s heart. There is no rousing tenor crescendo here, but instead an exquisitely tender tenor moment, glorious in its simplicity, mesmerizing in its lack of bravura. Santelli delivers all the right notes with a marksman’s exactness, but his acting work throughout the opera to this pivotal moment, convincing us of his sincere love for Adina, pays emotional dividends here, adding something extra to the aria in Santelli’s hands, earning him a sustained ovation as the final notes faded into silence.
Next up for Virginia Opera: Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, at the Dominion Energy Center in Richmond, March 29 & 31.