Teatro La Fenice 2017-18 Review – L’Elisir d’Amore: Irina Dubrovskaya and Leonardo Cortellazzi Put On Striking Displays in Donizetti Masterpiece

(Credit: Michele Crosera)

The path of true love never runs smoothly, or so the well-known expression runs. Through the centuries men and women have constantly misunderstood each other’s intentions; the game of love is no simple affair. What should be a simple development between two people who love each other almost by default becomes complicated and fraught with misunderstandings as they engage in a joust, in which the outcome is by no means certain. Normal behavior becomes contorted as they guess and second guess the deeper meanings behind every gesture, and try to uncover the hidden significance of every word; the unconscious certainly has a lot of explaining to do! If it were not for the fact that most people have had such experiences then it would be baffling behavior indeed, even absurd. Yet, on reflection, we are able to laugh at ourselves and to sympathize with others, even if at the same time, allowing ourselves a wry smile or a little chuckle or two. Not surprisingly, therefore, writers for the theater have been drawn to its comedic possibilities, and in Donizetti’s opera, “L’Elisir D’Amore,” the demented game has been perfectly captured in all its delightful absurdity.

For La Fenice’s production of “L’Elisir D’Amore,” the musical direction was placed in the hands Riccardo Frizza, the newly appointed Musical Director for the 2018 Donizetti Festival in Bergamo, and he showed himself to be the ideal appointment. From the opening bars of the overture, Frizza established a wonderful momentum that whisked the onstage drama along, creating a vibrant sound that sparkled with energy. The myriad of textures he elicited from the Orchestra del Teatro La Fenice gave the performance richness and depth, while at the same time he gave space for the orchestral sections to shine. Moreover, his ability to highlight the dynamic contrasts underscored and heightened the comedy taking place on the stage. His mastery in creating an integrated sound between the stage and the pit was impressive, the soloists, chorus, and orchestra always ideally balanced.

Two Potent Leads

The two would-be lovers, Adina and Nemorino, were played by Irina Dubrovskaya and Leonardo Cortellazzi, and both put in first-class singing and acting performances. Dubrovskaya, a regular at La Fenice, rarely fails to delight. Her bell-like tone along with her scintillating coloratura and the apparent ease with which she knocks out the high notes are fairly guaranteed to wow the audience. Yet, her performances are so much more than this, for she is clearly a thoughtful singer, who does not simply rely on the vocal pyrotechnics. Her acting has real quality. Whether she is playing a naïve young girl, a flirtatious minx, a paragon of purity or even a more nuanced character she is always confident in the role, relates convincingly to the other characters, employs well-placed gestures, and positively sparkles in comedies, her voice possessing a real bounce and light vibrant musicality that brings a real zip to her performances. As Adina, Dubrovskaya convincingly transitions from a selfish, flirtatious and not particularly likable young minx to a sympathetic and more mature young woman, transformed by love’s realization. Her arias, duets, particularly “Quanto amore” with Lepore, and ensemble pieces were delivered with her usual freshness and verve, but arguably it was her cantabile “Prendi, per me sei libero” in which she performed at her best, as she span out delicate phrase after delicate phrase, sensitively embellished, with only a light musical accompaniment followed by the cabaletta in which she showed off the flexibility and beauty of her coloratura. If there is a criticism to be made of her technique, it is the way her final vocal flourishes, which although sounding brilliant as they soar to great effect, high above the ensemble and/or chorus, can appear somewhat mannered in their preparation. A minor criticism, however, of what was a wonderful performance.

Having recently seen Cortellazzi in the role of the sedate, refined and genteel Admeto in Gluck’s “Alceste” it came as a bit of a surprise to see him hamming it up as Nemorino. Yet, it is a testament to his superb acting skills that he was completely unrecognizable, and to be honest, he is to be preferred in this type of role, for which he certainly has a natural talent and complemented Dubrovskaya’s Adina perfectly. Nor was his singing any less accomplished, the attractive tone of his voice underpinning his expressive phrasing. His showcase aria “Una furtiva lagrima,” in which he realizes that Adina does, in fact, love him, was delivered with quality and a great deal sensitivity, his phrases bathed in reflective, thoughtful happiness.

And Some Solid Backup

Dressed in suitably flamboyant purple and yellow costumes and sporting an outrageous auburn hairstyle, Carlo Lepore, in the role of Dulcamara, entered the stage in his wagon, full of potions and tricks, with his entourage of colorful scam artists. Always larger than life, Lepore dominated the stage. Like any successful mountebank, Lapore’s Dulcamara oozed superficial charm, which ensured his never-ending supply of dupes ready to be hoodwinked. His wonderfully expressive and flexible bass was no less dazzling. It is powerful, but with a lightness that allowed him to dance a vocal path through his deceptive shenanigans. His aria “Udite, udite, o rustici” showed off his wonderful ability to characterize the role, his voice full of subtle intonations and delicate colorings, as he cajoled the peasants into buying his potions.

In the role of Belcore was Marco Filippo Romano. He gave an excellent portrayal of the haughty and confident army sergeant, who he played with the expected swagger and authority of a person in his position, yet he always retained a subtle comic undercurrent to maintain the lighthearted atmosphere of the work. He sang well, employing an array of dynamic and tonal inflections underpinned by his solid technique.

The supporting role of Giannetta was parted by Arianna Donadelli, and she made a very good impression. She has an attractive, light soprano with a pleasing clear tone which she employed with skill, and acted out the part with enthusiasm.

The Coro Teatro del La Fenice under the direction of Claudio Marino Moretti performed in fine style, their obvious enthusiasm and enjoyment communicating itself to the audience. Their vivacious singing bounced along and added substantially to the fun.

A Traditional Reading

The director Bepi Morassi produced a traditional reading of the opera, with no attempt whatsoever to divert attention away from its simple themes, and kept the focus closely centered on the comedy at the heart of Adina and Nemorino’s ridiculous posturing and their attempts to attract each other. There was no attempt to dig any deeper, no attempt to discover the underlying psychological impulses that precipitate such behavior: and why should there? Donizetti and Romani’s work functions very nicely on its own, something Morassi clearly realized. Moreover, he showed his skill in being able to deliver a simple reading of the work, which constantly sparkled and amused, and frequently had the audience laughing out loud, something which is not so easily achieved!

Morassi was aided by the choreographer, Barbara Pessina, who played no small role in making this production a success. Every movement was so well-thought through that the interactions between the characters appeared completely natural. The set scenes involving the chorus were full of vibrant activity and superbly organized. Gianmaurizio Fercioni, the costume designer, also added to the splendor of the staging. In line with Morassi’s vision, the costumes were traditional, but his colorful designs, further highlighted by the sumptuous lighting, engineered by Vilmo Furian, really helped shape the presentation and sharpen the impact of the drama.

Fercioni was also responsible for the scenography, and in this, he was less successful. Certainly, some sets were well designed, such as the wedding celebrations, but overall they were very simple and plain, relying on backcloths, sometimes pictured, sometimes blank, to create the scenes. The last scene, in particular, was particularly disappointing, consisting of a plain orange colored backcloth with an empty stage. On the positive side, however, it is fair to say that the paltry nature of some sets did not overly detract from which was, on the whole, a colorful and vibrant presentation.

A Distraction Worth Noting

One other point worthy of note was that Morassi had the cast spilling off the stage and into the auditorium and involving the audience. At various points during the performance members of the chorus were posing in the main aisle, leaflets advertising the elixir were dropped on to the stalls from above, Dulcamara entered from the back, removed Maestro Frizza from his position, and took over the conducting, and sweets (love potions) were handed out to the audience. Of course, all of this is not a problem per se and certainly added to the entertainment. However, this raised a couple of tangential questions. Firstly, this seems to be becoming a fairly commonplace occurrence at La Fenice and in other theaters. It is no longer unusual, and its impact has largely been lost and can be easily viewed as gimmicky. During a recent performance of “Madama Butterfly,” members of the chorus sang the “humming chorus” standing in the stalls. Their entrance and exit were noisy and distracting. Secondly, and far more importantly, such activity is guaranteed to set off a wave of excited conversation amongst the audience, adding to the general level of disturbance that is on the increase in theatres these days.

The evening was brought to a close with a well-deserved standing ovation. Musically it was a delight; Maestro Frizza and the entire cast established a wonderfully breezy and energetic pace which, backed by an engaging, colorful and superbly well-choreographed staging, captured the work’s essential fun that makes it so popular.

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