Metropolitan Opera: 2017-18 Review – L’Elisir D’Amore: Polenzani Leaves Audience Drunk on Love

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

This review is for the performance on Saturday, January 20, 2018.

Audiences at the Metropolitan Opera were in for a treat this evening as they gathered for Donizetti’s heartfelt comedy “L’Elisir D’Amore.” Bartlett Sher’s production faithfully held to tradition while creating an authentic experience of a small, connected village where events big or small ripple outwards and leave nothing untouched. While Sher’s production attempts to create themes of the Risorgimento and give it a more serious touch, this evenings cast opted for more comical elements, which made the production all the more successful.

Supported by the energetic conducting of Domingo Hindoyan, the artists were well-prepared to wring out laughs and praise for what was to follow.

A Feisty Adina  

In the role of Adina, Pretty Yende displayed great vocal agility, soaring and falling with an ease that spoke to the flighty, elusive nature of Adina. Throughout the first act, Yende proved herself able to keep the upper hand on her suitors as she, armed with a horsewhip, engaged in romantic sparring with Sergeant Belcore. As Nemorino feigned indifference towards her, she began to dance to his tune, full of flirtatious confrontation, until Belcore returned and gave her the means to throw Nemorino’s heart into disarray once more. In the second act, as her feelings changed, Yende mused over her situation with falling melismas that made audible her uncertainties. These apprehensions gave way when Doctor Dulcamara tried to sell her his popular elixir and Yende reassumed her seductive poise. This was overall an excellent performance by Yende, who made playing hard-to-get sound splendid from beginning to end.

The Heart Of The Opera

Matthew Polenzani as Nemorino effectively captured the essence of an unrequited lover, clumsily tailing Adina as he pined away, yet also able to hide his presence in some moments. As he jostled his way through the crowd gathered to hear Adina tell the story of “Tristan and Isolde,” his desire made him not above taking the seat of a child after giving a quick and comic push. The confidence he gained after drinking the supposed magic elixir was something to behold as Polenzani happily leaped from crate to crate in the market, waving about a rifle with the barrel often inches away from his hands and face all while singing with excitement and vocal flair. As the second act continued, Nemorino’s newfound wealth made him the sudden object of every woman’s affection, creating a delightful exit as he was chased into the night by a pack of bachelorettes headed up by the adorably-small Ashley Emerson as Gianetta. The humor of his departure was transformed into a richness of contemplation upon his return as the orchestra began the first measures of “Una furtiva lagrima.” Polenzani took the audience on an intoxicating journey, concluded by savoring the first syllable of “d’amore” to a length where his voice danced on the verge of breaking into a joyful cry.

The Comics 

As Sergeant Belcore, Davide Luciano carried much of the humor in the first act. After strutting onto the stage with an enormous hat and a larger ego, he immediately set to work on romancing Adina with his own brand of swaggering self-assurance and an imposing baritone to back it up. Singing with agile coloratura, his portrayal was more comic than gallant, it was still highly effective in putting Nemorino through hell. Through his trio with Yende and Polenzani, Luciano proved himself highly able to hold his own among these great voices, making for a fantastic and sharply-executed trio towards the end of the first act.

From his entrance, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Doctor Dulcamara charmed the village, and the audience, with his style and seeming-magic. As he pattered off about his knowledge and the powers of his potions with impeccable diction, he led the reaching crowd about with a bottle of simple Bordeaux. He showcased a sturdy bass that was unstoppable throughout the evening and his energy made him the center of attention in a number of scenes and by the fall of the curtain almost all, himself included, were under his spell.

All these factors made this night another success for the Met as the artists received a standing ovation. While it is no easy thing to straddle the line between comedy and emotional sincerity, the night’s performance did just that without neglecting one for the other. Though a standard in the Met’s repertoire, audiences will find much to enjoy thanks to the passionate work of its cast.

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About the Author

Logan Martell
Logan Martell is a senior at Fordham University pursuing a degree in Medieval Studies. His passion for storytelling has led to opportunities studying under Broadway luminaries as he strives to take his work to ever-higher levels.

3 Comments on "Metropolitan Opera: 2017-18 Review – L’Elisir D’Amore: Polenzani Leaves Audience Drunk on Love"

  1. Dear Mr Martell, we saw the performance on Feb 10 and agree with your review with one exception. Why did you have to comment on Ms Ashley Emerson’s height? What impact does it have on her singing and acting? Why are Americans so obsessed with being tall? It has nothing to do with their intelligence, ability, and mental strength

  2. February 10, 2018
    Gaetano Donizetti’s “L’ELISIR D’AMORE” (The Love Potion) – Comments & Review

    No Blood and Guts and Pity – Just Fun with Matt and Pretty

    And, for heaven’s sake, let us not forget Ildebrando D’Arcangelo. The Italian bass with the seraphic surname and lively stentorian vocal package who charmed the audience with his energetic and alluring interpretation of Doctor Dulcamara, the brash charlatan and peddler of potions concocted to cure all and everything.

    But ultimately, the thunderous and lasting applause, the standing ovation and the flower shower after the final curtain fall, mostly belonged to Pretty Yende the South African coloratura soprano in the role of Adina, and to the American tenor Matthew Polenzani as Nemorino. Miss Yende, pretty indeed, is but 32 years of age with a vividly resonating silvery timbre. Trained as a Mozart and bel canto singer and equipped with excellent technique, her vocal ornamentations were tidy and brilliant throughout the requisite tessitura. Her Adina is a playful flirt with a warm human flair throughout her emotional journey from the equivocal to infatuation and ultimately true love.

    Matthew, on the other hand, is an old hand, and virtually all the opera patrons today put both of their hands together when all was said and done at the Met, Live in HD, broadcast. That’s a ton of hands, folks, and well deserved. Mr. Polenzani had already brought down the Big House with a remarkable rendition of the affectionate romanza “Una furtiva lagrima” during the second act. This accomplished actor and singer is 49 now; from Chicago; Evanston, to be exact. ‘He is one of the most gifted and distinguished lyric tenors of his generation. His elegant musicianship, innate sense of style and dramatic commitment find him at virtually every leading operatic, concert and recital venue in the world’. That is what his bio says. And it is entirely correct. This chap can sing and act and is in full control of a most distinctive lyric sound. You could easily recognize his clarion tone even on an old iPhone 4 with a hot and dying battery while you are standing on the platform at any of the 472 New York City subway stations while the train is rattling into view. That is how pretty and clear it is. And was today, No trains, luckily.

    The fourth key player in the opera’s line-up is Belcore, a bully, and a cocky military sergeant hitting on our sweet Adina. He makes up HIS mind to marry HER and almost gets our heroine to the altar. Almost. The young Italian baritone Davide Luciano made his Met debut today in this comedic role. He offered a workmanlike performance. Another young and promising newcomer to the Met, the Venezuelan Conductor Domingo Hindoyan, led the Met Orchestra with energy and enthusiasm.

    “L’Elisir d’Amore”, created in 1832 with a libretto by Felice Romani, was Gaetano Donizetti’s second highly successful operatic composition. Musically, it represents the blossoming of a style of bel canto unique to him, with more flowing lines and soaring melodies and less of the staccato, the heavy runs, trills and the other repetitive conventions found in some of his earlier works of Rossini imitations. Today’s presentation was given by the Metropolitan Opera in the 2012 production version created by Bartlett Sher. Notably, he advanced the traditional late 19th century Basque Country location to a small Italian village during the early stages of the Risorgimento and humanized the tenor role of the half-witted and lovesick Nemorino by adding a more plausible romantic side to this traditional yokel character. It worked well. Sets were designed by Michael Yeargan and costumes created by Catherine Zuber.
    L’Elisir d’Amore” is a special opera. Not a story to die for but one to have fun with. No blood and guts are spilled. Nobody gets whacked. No pity is needed. All ends in happiness, bliss and cheer. Even “Una furtive lagrima”, the furtive tear, is one of joy or anxious love, not grief or sadness. It is a witty, funny, fluffy opera of immense melodic beauty, fast paced in under 3 hours, including an intermission with a cooking lesson thrown in for serious pasta lovers.

    Today, this happy mix was skillfully served up by Matthew, Pretty and Hildebrandt, the Archangel.

    Sweet!

    Werner Burger Operaforever@outlook.com

  3. I saw and enjoyed the live transmission of L’Elisir D’amore last night: a first viewing of this opera for me. The cast were all superb and the music quite lovely. Pretty Yende is a pretty amazing soprano and a great example to Black Africans of what can be achieved. Well done her!! I hope to see more of her in future. I thought all the cast and the chorus were superb but in the final scene it really was Dulcamara with his rich bass voice, his great diction in the patter singing, his superb acting and comic timing, who stole the show. You really have to have an Italian to play this part!! PS In the interviews with the two Italians (Luciano and d’Arcangelo) during the interval I felt they were struggling with their English to answer the questions. Couldn’t they have been interviewed in their own tongue with a translator??

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