Donizetti’s Elisir d’Amore
by Peter Perret
January 28, 2009, Winston-Salem, NC: The Fletcher Opera Institute, on the campus of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in the School of Music, presents three performances of Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love) sung in Italian with English supertitles at the Stevens Center, and an additional two performances the following week at the A. J. Fletcher Opera Theater in Raleigh. (See our Triad and Triangle calendars for details.) A vehicle for advancing the career potential of exceptional young singers, the Fletcher Opera Institute offers performance-based training at the graduate and post-graduate levels to several Institute Fellows each year.
L’elisir d’amore, a comedy, has become one of Donizetti’s most popular operas along with Lucia di Lammermoor, Don Pasquale and La Fille du Régiment; Donizetti (1797-1848) composed over eighty operas in his relatively short life.
Two voices stood out in this charming production, wittily directed by faculty member Steven LaCosse: soprano Jodi Burns (Adina) and baritone Scott Schumpert (Belcore). Ms. Burns is an accomplished and vocally mature artist whose warm and flexible voice lends itself well to this bel canto style of singing. In addition, her acting lends credence to the flirtatious and capricious character of Adina. Scott Schumpert, as the swaggering sergeant “on the make,” has a fine warm baritone voice to complement his tall, dark and handsome looks. Warm and rich, his singing was also the most accurate of the cast in terms of intonation.
The role of the lovelorn country bumpkin, Nemorino, was sung on the opening night by Marvin Kehler, whose Italian pronunciation was excellent; his young and somewhat thin voice will profit by more maturity. The itinerant quack, Dottore Dulcamara (a made up name from dolce = sweet and amargo = bitter), was drolly played and sung by Christopher Ervin who started the evening “in bad voice,” as the public address system told us, but whose voice improved continuously throughout the two-act opera. He was a convincing actor, from his first landing on stage in a hot-air balloon to his final scene and air-borne exit. The duet between the dottore and Adina in which he attempts to sell her some of his fake love potion but she refuses, claiming her charms were more potent than his bottles, was a show-stopper!
The excellent orchestra and powerful chorus were directed by James Albritten, whose conducting has always been exuberantly enthusiastic and is has become very clear and efficient. The string section was strong, often over-powering the woodwinds. Almost all the singers had intonation problems at one time or another – Ms. Burns was occasionally flat at the ends of phrases or on her highest register, and her suitor, Mr. Kehler was frequently sharp, especially when singing unaccompanied.
The sets, designed by Jessica Moretti, looked at first glance like an Italianate version of a Breughel painting and the costumes, designed by Jennifer Allevato, made very clear the difference between classes: wealthy or peasant, military or legal.
The small audience (the Wake Forest basketball team was playing Duke across town) made up in enthusiasm what it lacked in numbers!