L’Elisir d’Amore

L’Elisir d’Amore

Reviewer's rating

I’ve just been watching the streaming of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore from the Met
and wish it was going to be up for another week or more! That would give more
people a chance to see a lovely, witty, somewhat more spectacular than
necessary reading of it by that interesting American director Bartlett Sher.

Ultimately it is much less a chocolate box or farcical presentation than usual and
the characters actually follow a trajectory to deeper understanding and change.
It is also musically delightful. It is well-cast, and conducted with real style and
understanding of its idiom by Domingo Hindoyan; and above all, has a strong
cast and the Met chorus in its finest fettle. It is also a chance to experience the
work of the soprano Pretty Yende. I have to admit that I fell in love with Pretty
Yende from the opening moments. She is a very beautiful woman with strong
theatrical instincts, great presence and a superb voice for bel canto, a voice that
is somehow both penetrating and glazed in honey.

She is wonderfully able to convey first her slight fear and then her flirtatious
growth of confidence when she first meets Davide Luciano’s Belcore. You also
have to praise Davide Luciano for his vivid, self-involved, strutting, preening
Belcore and for conveying so well the undercurrent of dangerous bullying of
which he is capable. His voice encompasses the role perfectly for the music and
he acts his part with great self-confidence and some darker qualities than usual.

The other stars of the show, of course, include the always watchable Ildebrando
D’Arcangelo as Dulcamara. His patter songs, his crafty salesmanship of his snake
oil, his touch of sympathy for the hero, are all conveyed with great energy and
charm. He is no buffoon but he knows how to pretend to be more of a court jester
for his rustic audience than he actually is. Matthew Polenzani is an excellent
choice for the role of Nemorino, a role of the central importance in the bel canto
repertoire that defined the career of Pavarotti. He does not wipe out the sheer
glory of the Pavarotti interpretation – and it was a seriously strong
interpretation with some startling acting and emotionalism conveyed through
his astonishing voice alone – but Polenzani makes something very much of his
own of the role and he has a sweet, lyric voice that he controls with really
intelligent shaping of the vocal lines, dynamics and sheer loveliness of sound.
Also, his acting is very good at conveying a man who may be socially beneath his
beloved but has considerable confidence and charm underneath his insecurities
that give him the gumption to try whatever he can to win his love. The duet just
before the arrival of Dulcamara is, as it should be, one of the finest moments in
this production.

As for that arrival, who could do it better these days than the Met with their swift
scene changes due to that hydraulic system of theirs? And Ildebrando
D’Arcangelo is a totally convincing con man, not only because he is attractive and
youngish, but because of that seductive bass-baritone voice. Sher has even
directed it so that we can see from the start how inevitable it is that this couple
will end up together. It is, as always with Bartlett Sher, a production that has
considerable glamour but that also is able to focus in on the individual, personal
moments and that takes real care to convey characterization. He also conveys a
sense of the community in which the principal characters live. Sher seems to me
to listen to the music and what it is saying dramatically and also to pay close
attention to the text. He has created a totally convincing show that respects the
libretto and the score.

So lucky us to be able to catch up with this production again, a small glimmer of
silver lining in the dark clouds of the Covid-19 virus. It’s never the same as being
in the theatre with a couple of thousand other people or more and sharing the
experience live. The compensation is that, with singing actors as good as this
team, you can enjoy the close-ups, the subtleties. And, of course, hope that one
day rights will be cleared and it will be available for good on DVD. But, of course,
meantime, you can also check out Pavarotti on the DVDs that do exist. I also
recommend the CD recording of Elisir with Joan Sutherland.