It was a lover and his lass that made last night’s audience fall in love all over again during Washington National Opera‘s production of Donizetti‘s L’elisir d’amore. Held up as an ideal of bel canto singing, L’elisir d’amore is one of the favorite operas in the traditional repertory. The libretto, written by Felice Romani, tells the love story of two young inhabitants of a rural Basque village. The timid Nemorino relies on the elixir of a traveling snake oil salesman, a bottle of Bordeaux, to woo Adina before she marries the suave Sergeant Belcore. Stephen Costello, as Nemorino, and real-life wife Ailyn Pérez, as the sought-after Adina, captured the hearts of the audience. Even with a few musical hiccoughs throughout the evening, the performance is full of good clean fun and some thrilling singing.
Costello is a gem for Washington National Opera this season. He returns to the Kennedy Center Opera House stage after his recent performance as Greenhorn/Ishmael in Jake Heggie‘s Moby-Dick. If WNO audiences hadn’t already fallen for him in that production, they certainly melted for him as the lovesick Nemorino. Even though he looked a bit like the young Indiana Jones, he sounded every bit the bel canto lover. Costello ranged from such affectionate moments like “Una parole, Adina” to robust and intense as in his technically impressive “Dulcamara volo tosto a ricercar.” Which explains how he had the audience in the palm of his hand by the time the famous “Una furtiva lagrima” came along. The dynamic change as well as the silence he left between the “si può morir” phrases at the end of the aria were exquisite. Just before Nemorino’s notable aria, Pérez also stunned in her Act II duet “Quanto amore! Ed io, spietata, tormentai sì nobil cor!” with Nicola Ulivieri as Doctor Dulcamara. She exhibited brilliant singing throughout the evening but found her most free and expressive moments here. While her initial “Prendi” was extremely tender, Pérez sought such delicate pianissimo at other times that did not carry to the audience effectively. However, her dramatic push and pull with Costello was honest and enthralling (something tells me they might have a bit of an advantage here…)
Nemorino’s attempts to win Adina’s affection before she marries the renowned Sergent Belcore sung by Italian bass-baritone Simone Alberghini also offers many opportunities for push and pull from the main characters. Without even a hint of “woofiness”, Alberghini demonstrated clarity and agility in the rapid Donizetti vocal lines. He also seemed to relish in the chance to ham it up on stage. Classic physical comedy abounds in this production without devolving into cliché and the opening night audience certainly ate it up. Ulivieri’s Dulcamara also reveled in the humorous elements. These two characters are often responsible for bringing the staccato, marcato patter to balance the legato bel canto lines of the young lovers and both did so with great skill. Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Shantelle Przybylo also deserves a mention for her adorable turn as Giannetta. The passing-the-plates scene that she shares with the female chorus in which she describes how Nemorino has come into his new fortune was energetic and fun.
The overall production from Director Stephen Lawless, including set design by Johan Engels and lighting design by Joan Sullivan-Genthe, was refreshing. Sullivan-Genthe’s lighting design showed obvious consideration for visual story-telling. The production moves from a gorgeous sun-drenched opening through a carefully constructed storm and finally into a clear night. The strangest disappointment in this production were the handful of tempo disagreements between the stage and conductor Ward Stare that seemed to throw the trios and quartets off-kilter. It was undetermined what was causing the rift, but it was certainly noticeable.
Even with a few hiccoughs, it is true that sweet lovers really do love the spring. What better way to celebrate spring’s return than with this fun production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at Washington National Opera? There are seven more opportunities to catch it with this and another cast featuring Sarah Coburn and Daniel Montenegro as Adina and Nemorino. Tickets and information can be found at the Kennedy Center Box Office, by calling (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324, or online at www.kennedy-center.org.