‘L’elisir’ a potion for love and laughs

Soprano Bevin Hill is Adina in Opera Company of Middlebury’s “L’elisir d’amore.” PHOTO BY CINDI DUFF

Unfortunately, comic opera often isn’t very funny. But that’s never a complaint at the Opera Company of Middlebury. At Thursday’s openingnight performance of Donizetti’s “L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love)” — at Town Hall Theater, folks were nearly falling out of their seats laughing. And, yet, the lyrical beauty came through in spades — delivering the tender romance of this bel canto favorite. The company’s fall production is traditionally a “staged concert version” where the action takes place with no sets and minimal staging in front of the orchestra. Also traditional for this production, all the singers are OCM veterans. All benefits from the unusual intimacy of the 240-seat hall. Gaetano Donizetti’s 1832 opera, with libretto by Felice Romani, follows poor peasant Nemorino who is pining away for the wealthy party girl Adina. The traveling quack Dr. Dulcamara sells a “magic elixir” to Nemerino, who hopes it will make him irresistible to women — or at least to Adina Although it’s just booze, Nemerino thinks it’s working and acts accordingly. Thus begins a whole series of misadventures that nearly ends with Adina’s marrying the lothario Sgt. Belcore. It doesn’t get much more fun than this. Startlingly, Douglas Anderson, OCM’s artistic director who stage directed, took the action from the pastoral French countryside to a Prohibition-era speakeasy. Changing next to nothing in the opera itself, save for a long moment of nightclub entertainment, the result was nearly seamless — almost as if it had been written that way. And the style was straight out of classic screwball film comedies; the opera itself was already a screwball comedy. There were a few moments when the comedy overpowered the romance, but love won out. Still, folks come to opera first for the singing, and no one had any reason to be disappointed Thursday. There was nary a weak singer — or actor — in the cast. The production, the fine 22-piece orchestra and the Middlebury College Chorus (directed by Jeffrey Buettner), were sensitively and expertly conducted by Jeffrey Rink. It sounded great. Soprano Bevin Hall was a particularly fine Adina, both a nuanced actor and a master of the finesse of coloratura bel canto singing. Her control was deft as she used her expressiveness to effectively inhabit her complex character. As Nemorino, tenor Joshua Collier was a fine comic actor. Although a bit brash sounding in the beginning, he proved a brilliant singer as well. His sensitive performance of the lament, “Una furtiva lagrima (A furtive tear),” the opera’s famous aria, was deliciously heart wrenching (just what folks came for). Bass-baritone Kian Freitas was delightfully funny as the conniving Dr. Dulcamara, while Belcore was given a braggadocio performance by baritone Christopher Homes. Excellent soprano Rachel Hall as Gianetta was joined by soprano Allison Deverey, mezzosoprano Heather Jones, tenor Cameron Steinmetz and baritone Garrett Obrycki, rounding out the cast. The stylish staging was by Anderson, with extravagant costumes by Debby Anderson, all creatively lit by Neil Curtis. It was certainly slick. Anderson surprised the audience with his announcement of a change of direction for the spring’s full production: André Previn’s 1995 “A Streetcar Named Desire.” From the sublime to the ridiculous, that will be followed in fall by a staged concert version of Jacques Offenbach’s bawdy farce, “La belle Helene.” OPERA COMPANY OF MIDDLEBURY The Opera Company of Middlebury presents Donizetti’s comedy, “L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love),” in a staged concert version, Oct. 12-14, at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater. The one remaining performance is at 2 p.m. today (Oct. 14). Tickets are $45-$60; call 382-9222, or go online to www.towhalltheater.org.

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