Wiener Staatsoper: More Old Fashioned Bel Canto in L'elisir d'amore

Just as in the Wiener Staatsoper's recent production of Il barbiere di Siviglia this production of Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore goes back to the basic, classic style of bel canto performance, stripping away many of the inventions and conventions developed in the past several decades and returning to the basis of the art form. The production of Barbiere was certainly funny, but eschewed hilarity in favor of what felt like a very pure representation of bel canto melodrama.

Synopsis & general information:'elisir_d'amore

L'elisir d'amore | Gaetano Donizetti

Dirigent | Marco Armiliato
Nach der Regie von | Otto Schenk
Ausstattung | Jürgen Rose
Chorleitung | Martin Schebesta

Adina | Aleksandra Kurzak
Nemorino | Stephen Costello
Belcore | Marco Caria
Doktor Dulcamara | Adam Plachetka
Giannetta | Jeanine De Bique
Ein Trompeter | Konras Monsberger
Diener des Dulcamara | Michael Burggasser

In simple bel canto fashion, the set did not change throughout the show. The included photo will offer most of the information, so this section of the review will be short. Suffice to say the sun-baked feel of the set, combined with stairs for Adina to use and a stable-like building on the left from which the band could play on stage while remaining slightly obscured and out of the way. The opening in the walls allowed for great entrances from the military folks. In all, it set the perfect mood for the show, offered some interest and elements for the singers to play with, and didn't detract from the essential comedy of the opera.

Unfortunatley, the roles of Ein Trompeter and Diener des Dulcamara are heard so briefly that the quality of vocal output by Konras Monsberger and Michael Burggasser is difficult to evaluate. Nonetheless, they were unquestionably adequate to their parts. Burggasser, for his part, acted excellently in his comic role at the side (if only occasionally) of Dulcamara. Jeanine De Bique, evidently better cast as Giannetta than Kate Pinkerton in her previous Wiener Staatsoper outing, also sang quite well. Her voice was always pleasant and warm, and she perfectly embodied her role as Adina's friend. These three parts are small, but they were filled well and gave support to the four larger roles that form the crux of the comedy.

Adam Plachetka, in yet another performance for the Wiener Staatsoper, stunningly impressed with his rich, beautiful voice and his ability to fully immerse himself in a role. Here, his seemingly natural charisma bled into the role of Dulcamara, creating a convincing portrayal of a man that the simpletons of the village would accept. This also gave him the necessary credibility that made him seem so genuine to the love-blinded Nemorino. Fittingly, while Dulcamara clearly is looking for a profit, Plachetka played this down and allowed his role in the whole love affair to be somewhat farcical, keeping everything strictly in the realm of comedy. Beneath his brilliant characterization, Plachetka's voice was both expressive and attractive. Its warm gravel added perfectly to the charisma of his character. Plachetka seems to climb to new heights with every role at the Wiener Staatsoper.

As Belcore, Marco Caria also brought a rich voice to the performance. In the higher role, and with a slightly ligher voice than Plachetka, he certainly was distinct. Caria's singing was as impetuous as his characterization of Belcore. This is not to say that Caria was incompetent or sacrificed technique. He simply had a very forthright, ringing baritone voice that fit perfectly the dashing, dastardly casanova Belcore. This impetuousness translated into great comedy as Caria's Belcore courted Adina, somewhat against her will, fought with Nemorino, and ultimately gave up without a fight. He seemed determined all the time, yet jovial and fun all the time. Though, through Donizetti's writing, not nearly as visibly as Adina or Nemorino, Caria's skills made Belcore a soundly solid part of this production.

Stephen Costello's performance as Nemorino was ostensibly irreproachable. He had a beautiful. light tenor voice that carried throughout the opera. He also possessed the perfect face and build, augmented by his acting, to give Nemorino an earnest, naïve foolishness due to his love for Adina. Despite this generally admirable performance, a few issues were apparent on closer inspection. there was something somewhat odd and difficult to describe about the voice that was not appealing. Perhaps some strange aspect of nasality. It felt less like an issue of technique and more like an issue with the natural voice, for better or for worse. The understanding of the role was solid in terms of acting, but a few stylistic elements, like the proliferation of scoops in an otherwise excellent, slow, and well-spun "Una furtiva lagrima," dented the performance. Similarly, the acting, while good, was somewhat uniform. In both cases, however, given that Costello's performance was highly amusing, fit the bel canto repertoire just fine.

Aleksandra Kurzak's Adina was wonderfully flirtatious. Her sweet voice retained warmth throughout the low and mid-ranges. She did have squillo but it lacked the piquant ping that many voices, especially in bel canto repertoire, possess. The one complaint about this voice was its top. It was not that Kurzak did not have access to the top notes of the role, but rather that she became slightly shrill in this range. It was not a horrible sound by any means, but the voice lost its endearing warmth. The rest of her acting and her voice (not to mention her looks), however, more than made up for this deficiency.

Marco Armiliato's conducting abilities unfortunately are directly tied to Aleksandra Kurzak's performance.  Aleksandra's unique voice, warm, relatively small, and with only moderate cut, simply could not stand up to Armiliato's bombastic conducting that pushed Donizetti's relatively conservative score and orchestration to Verdian heights. While stylistically inappropriate, such an anachronism might have been admissible given that it fit with the rollicking humor of the opera had it not so frequently covered the singers, most specifically Aleksandra Kurzak.


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