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London gets on with things: L’elisir d’amore (ROH, 6 June 2017)

You ever imagine Tristan and Isolde with a happy ending? No? The French did (of course they did!) and so did the Italians, even more successfully. It was 1832 and women in opera had a few more years left to be intelligent, poke fun at hackneyed stories and crucially not die by the end.

I bought this ticket wrongly and long before I knew how contralto-mad times would get. So let me make a belcanto pitstop before I get back to my German adventures.

Adina: Pretty Yende
Nemorino: Liparit Avetisyan
Dulcamara: Alex Esposito
Belcore: Paolo Bordogna
Giannetta: Vlada Borovko
Conductor: Bertrand de Billy | Chorus and Orchestra of the ROH
Director: Laurent Pelly

(Co-production with Opéra National de Paris)

I missed this “much loved” production the last time it was aired but I caught it on the radio and kicked myself for missing it. This time I was determined to see it – but as cheap as possible. It was only after booking that I realised I got the second cast, at the time including Rolando Villazon. Though you might remember I got a bit googly eyed for Alexandra Kurzak during Il turco in Italia and was rather annoyed to miss her this year, I decided to see the glass half full and check rising star Pretty Yende out.

At the weekend I (half enthusiastically) mentioned to Agathe that I would be seeing Villazon on Tuesday. Well, what with not being a Villazon aficionado I don’t know when the change happened but today I noticed his name was not part of the cast.

I had no idea who Avetisyan was but he turned out to be a very welcome surprise. He’s a good singer, really looks the (dorky) part and has excellent comedic timing. In spite of the dorkiness, the man has serious stage presence. For my money he was the best actor tonight in a cast that was by no means shabby, continuously drawing laughs and not just because he had obviously learned his part (and stunts) very well. The man has a feel for the stage and is lucky to have caught our attention in such a carefully detailed production. His diction ain’t bad either. He does have to work on making his vocal performance more detailed, more personal, but I suppose that is the kind of thing that comes with experience. If he’s intelligent and has a good team to support him I think he will do very well in the future.

Yende has more of a Netrebko-type voice than what I’d expect in an ideal belcantist. Though she can pull off the trills and the top seems to come easy at her age, I imagine she will soon grow into heavier roles. It’s always interesting “getting to know” a voice for the first time live. I’d heard some stuff on zetube and couldn’t quite make up my mind. Live I liked her soft singing best, which is genuinely warm with just enough roundness. A congenial voice.

Her stage presence, in fact, is very girl-next-door (and she and Avetisyan made a very cute village couple). She sort of reminded me of Veronique Gens as Dona Elvira – a bit (or perhaps way) too nice for the role. At the beginning we need to be unsure of Adina’s feelings or to laugh with her at Nemorino. She’s the local landowner so she can’t be too chummy with Nemorino from the getgo. It might be part of the production but I felt Yende’s Adina was just another girl in the village, gently teasing Nemorino and getting girlishly sulky when he’s pretending not to care for her.

Though her soft singing has quite a bit of character (the emotion came through), she tended to be more abstract in the coloratura and when deploying the very top – neither of which were unpleasant on the ear, mind. Maybe next time she convinces me that coloratura isn’t just there to wow the audience with pure technical skill.

This is the kind of production where even the baddies are lovable. Bordogna was quite the bufoon as the self satisfied Sargent Belcore. It was the fourth time I’ve seen Esposito and by far the most pleasant. He must enjoy singing in an undershirt, as I think this is probably the third time I see him in one. It’s neither an opera nor a production interested in commenting on consumerism and public gullibility, so his Dulcamara is simply amusing, the way he keeps popping up and tying his magic potion to everything that works well.

Dulcamara: hello everybody, I’m Dr Dulcamara and I came up with that magic potion that works on everything from bedbugs to constipation, you may have heard of it1.
Villagers: ooooooooooh! Hello Dr Dulcamara, can we have some of that?
Dulcamara: of course! It’s cheap too. And it can make you great in bed and rich at the same time, like Nemorino here!
Villagers: OMG, how did we live without it all this time?!

Pelly productions always have extra little somethings, and here the curtain at intermission was a giant Dulcamara advert (in Italian, which made it even funnier), with pictures and text describing various ailments cured by the miraculous drug (you can see pictures here).

De Billy and Co. did a reasonably good job. Maybe it’s my seat (horseshoe left), maybe it’s my ears, but I felt like the sound from the orchestra was particularly uniform. The flute, oboe, bassoon and harp did their job when called for solos and/or lead, with the flute faring best, though nothing to write home about. I can’t say maestro made any efforts to pick out interesting sounds from his team. Likewise the chorus, who had quite a bit to do on stage – the villagers are very present in the opera. They sounded solid and on time but aside from one instance when the male side of the chorus sprung up quite nicely they seemed satisfied with merely keeping to the rhythm. The whole thing (orchestra included) could’ve benefited from more rubato. Belcanto comedy is built on simple, hummable tunes which can sound very mechanical without a bit of imagination.

The audience loved it, laughed a lot, clapped a lot and gave the team a very warm reception. It’s a likable production, I can’t complain. The atmosphere was congenial, with my seatmates on the left jolly and relaxed as well as knowledgeable, and my seatmate on the other side not particularly knowledgeable but certainly friendly and enjoying herself. It’s great to see Londoners letting their hair down at times like these.

  1. The good old days when quacks prescribed placebo! Imagine if all the pill-poppers around us merely drank weak wine. 

2017 ROH Spring Season now on General Sale

roh tunnel

(Accidents happen or don’t buy opera tickets when very tired/distracted)

I set my alarm for 8am this morning then when the intro to ‘giardiniera started I kicked it and went back to sleep which tells you this ROH Spring brings slim pickings for me.

But when I returned from work I decided to scavenge for anything cheap for The Exterminating Angel (I don’t like didn’t like Bunuel when I was 19, but based on my very positive experience with Written on Skin I thought I’d try another comtemporary opera) and L’elisir d’amore because of secret soprano crush Kurzak (here with hubby Alagna)… and then I accidentally ended up with Yende and Villazon (they were team A but perhaps unsurprisingly team B sold faster). Now I was curious about Yende anyway but oh dear god, Villazon. Come on, Sr V, prove me wrong 😛

L’elisir d’amore on the radio

Back to opera on the radio with Donizetti’s romcom from ROH in Laurent Pelly ever popular production.

Adina: Lucy Crowe
Nemorino: Vittorio Grigolo
Dulcamara: Bryn Terfel
Belcore: Levente Molnár
Giannetta: Kiandra Howarth
Conductor: Daniele Rustioni | Orchestra and Chorus of the ROH

Act I

The best things in act I were the chorus and the conducting. Rustioni managed a very good balance between light and dark and kept it bouncy. Vocally, Grigolo, whom I normally don’t like, surprised me positively. He started strong, he wasn’t bad at all as the naive and romantically inclined Nemorino. On the other hand I still haven’t warmed up to Crowe, although maybe a fuller voice is a good idea for a strong woman? Belcore was all right but Molnár didn’t sound very self important. I might’ve liked a brighter, sparklier tone… Terfel is not a bass, is he? He wasn’t bad, maybe needed to be funnier…

The Nemorino/Dulcamara duet came off all right, I think Terfel needs to up his salesman act. He sounds more like Belcore than Molnár does. Maybe I need to re-asses how much I like him as an actor. But strictly vocally speaking he was very good. Grigolo was a bit forward in duets and ensembles. The choir rocked the end of Act I.

intermission interviews: interesting points made about the changing of the tenor voice during the 1830s, from the left-over (tenore di grazia) of the castrati period to the head+chest mix of later on. Grigolo’s speaking voice does sound like a (high) mezzo’s. Rustioni says clarity is essential in belcanto, every notes counts. You can run but you cannot hide 😉

If you don’t know the story, Adina, the un-romantic land owner, reads the story of Tristan and Isolde and makes fun of the stupid (eh heh) plot. Nemorino (who’s besotted with her) thinks he needs just that kind of potion to make her love him. Roll in Dulcamara, the travelling quack doc. He of course has a “love potion” (red wine) for Nemorino. Nemorino gets drunk on it. Rumour spreads that his rich uncle has conveniently died and made him his heir (somebody needs to connect us all with these rich uncles from opera). All the women in the village jump him. Nemorino thinks it’s the potion. Turns out Adina actually likes him without the help of any potion.

Act II

Grigolo did a good job acting drunk. Choir, Grigolo and Terfel continued to be good to very good. Crowe wasn’t bad just not my thing. Check out the major madness at the end of Una furtiva lagrima (hope it works and sorry about the chop at the start. I was daydreaming)1. As you can hear, the public really got the clap 😉 before it even properly ended. But the public also loved Adina’s big aria. They were really clap-happy. Can’t fault tuneful music with simple plots.

All in all it was very entertaining, I kinda wish I’d been there.

  1. sorry, expired file. 

Una bellissima lagrima

I first heard Renzo Casellato in Marilyn Horne’s 1977 Tancredi1. To my surprise I didn’t find much about him online2. Youtube once again came to the rescue. Aside from rock solid technique and a beautiful, manly but nuanced tone, I dig his subtle interpretation(s). Although he can belt with the best of them, he doesn’t overdo it and finishes the aria on a soft, elegant note.

  1. He’s the excellent Argirio in that production. I liked him above everybody else, hence why I looked him up. 
  2. Although there’s a very positive entry about him in The Music Antiquarian Blog