James A. Altena
, November 2010
“Never judge a book by its cover”—or a DVD, either. When I first received this item and saw the decidedly unprepossessing cover photo of the lead soprano and tenor dressed as a pair of modern country bumpkins, I rolled my eyes and thought, “Another tiresome contemporary staging with all the usual idiotic conceits that entails.” I am delighted to say that my first impression was completely wrong; while not a first choice for this work, here is a smart, delightful production of high caliber that is far more than the sum of its parts.
As with the Verdi Falstaff I reviewed in the previous issue, this Glyndebourne production relocates and updates the action to England shortly after World War II. But there, the similarities end. Whereas the Falstaff was a tedious exercise in modern social clichés, the elements here are intelligently and attractively designed and executed as a seamless, coherent, and believable whole. A single building facade is successively changed to represent the handsome exteriors of Adina’s farmhouse and a civic mansion. Costumes are simple and tasteful—blue overalls for Nemorino, various garbs (a blouse and skirt, a white gown, a floral print dress) for Adina, a vest and cravat for Dulcamara, contemporary black military uniforms for Belcore and his men, and everyday work clothes for the villagers. Equally effective are the staging and acting, where the involvement and commitment of all concerned is palpable. Almost everything is natural and unaffected; nothing is overplayed. (The qualifying “almost” is for the production’s addition of a mimed comedic part, an assistant to Dulcamara; fortunately, his antics are kept to a minimum and do not upstage the production with distracting absurdity.) The camerawork is some of the finest I’ve ever seen for a live opera production; particularly attractive are the panoramic aerial shots looking down on the stage at the end of major scenes, a simple and yet highly effective device.
While the singing is not spectacular, it is all quite good. Ekaterina Siurina has the right weight and color for Adina, and dispatches her coloratura with no problems; only a lack of sheen in her top notes prevents her voice from being of the first rank. She is also an affecting interpreter; in the act I ensemble beginning “Lo compatite, egli è un ragazzo,” when Adina remonstrates with Belcore not to pulverize Nemorino, Siurina makes it an unexpectedly moving passage by momentarily letting down her guard and showing her real but hidden feelings for her simple suitor, instead of playing the coquettish minx bent on spite as is normally done. As Nemorino, Peter Auty has a voice that is one shade too light for the part—it’s more suited to oratorio and comprimario roles in heft and timbre—and not highly distinctive, but he too quickly draws one in with stylish and secure singing and vivid acting. Alfredo Daza as Belcore and Luciano di Pasquale as Dulcamara both bring solid, handsome voices to their roles (though di Pasquale is no Sesto Bruscantini, who was the perfect Dulcamara), and do not indulge in the exaggerated shtick that too often mars such assumptions. In short, this is an exemplary ensemble effort that would do any opera house proud.
Given its many positive features, it is almost a shame to say that this production does not quite make the top tier of choices for this opera. Unfortunately for it, but fortunately for opera lovers, it is outclassed both vocally and visually by the spectacular Otto Schenck film version on Virgin Classics with Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazon, Leo Nucci, and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, and the Vienna State Opera conducted by Alfred Eschwé. Vocally, it also cannot quite compete in the soprano and tenor lead roles with either of the two versions featuring Luciano Pavarotti at the Met (on Decca with Judith Blegen, on DG with Kathleen Battle). But if your budget can accommodate more than one L’elisir, this will afford you great pleasure and is well worth your while. Warmly recommended.