• Donizetti: L’Elisir d’Amore – 2012-2013 Season Opening Night at the Met

    © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

    L’Elisir d’Amore, melodramma giocoso in two acts. Music by Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848). Libretto by Felice Romani, adapted from the French libretto by Eugene Scribe for the opera Le Philtre (1831) by Daniel François Auber, in its turn adapted from Silvio Malaperta’s Italian play Il Filtro. Premiered on May 12, 1832, at the Teatro alla Canobbiana, Milan, Italy.
    Metropolitan Opera House, 2012-13 Season Opening Night on September 24, 2012. Sung in Italian, with Met titles in English and German.

    Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus – conductor Maurizio Benini, chorus master Donald Palumbo. New production by Bartlett Sher. Set Designer Michael Yeargan. Costume Designer Catherine Zuber. Lighting Designer Jennifer Tipton. The costumes are set to Italy, 1836.

    Cast in order of vocal appearance:

    Gianetta – Anne-Carolyn Bird
    Nemorino – Matthew Polenzani
    Adina – Anna Netrebko
    Sergeant Belcore – Mariusz Kwiecien
    Doctor Dulcamara – Ambrogio Maestri


    Opera, contrary to what the naysayers pretend, still has star power. The opening night at the Met looks and feels like any other major red carpet event, complete with celebrities arriving by limousine, a press area with a line of photographers snapping multiple shots of the artists, and a crowd outside of the carpeted area cheering at their ultra-dressed-up favorites.

    The Netrebko/Schrott couple of course gets the most attention, with Anna looking very beautiful in a black gown, arms-in-arms with an elegant and handsome tuxedo-clad Erwin.

    The plaza is festive with a large screen showing the opera to those who couldn’t snap the sold-out tickets, and the same is true of Times Square with another direct broadcast over an even larger screen.

    Inside the Met, ladies in gowns with long tails struggle to wrap the extra layers of fabric around themselves so that they can fit into the arms of the seats. See this one, and pardon me for the fuzzy image since I had to crop and use digital zoom to isolate this lady.

    We all get to sing along the American anthem, a beautiful moment. Then the opera starts. Some of these people seem to be here for the glamour rather than for the music, as they tend to applaud at the wrong moments. But hey, opera needs those too, given their propensity for donating large sums to the program.

    So, because we do care for the music here at Opera Lively, let’s start by talking about L’Elisir d’Amore. Here we have a Donizetti who had 15 years of experience under his belt, after his debut in Venice with Enrico di Borgogna at age 21, and a series of money-grabbing commissions culminating with his first big success with Anna Bolena in Milan in 1930. Then, the impresario Alessandro Lanari rents the Teatro Canobbiana for the 1832 spring season, but one of his composers fails to deliver an opera to him in time for his expected run. He then commissions Donizetti, some ten weeks before the scheduled opening night. Prolific Felice Romani pens the libretto in 8 days, and Donizetti, under pressure from the impresario, writes the music in two to four weeks (biographers differ on this).

    Such a hastily written opera (although this kind of timeline wasn’t uncommon at the time) shouldn’t be that good, right? Well, it is Donizetti’s most performed opera, and today it ranks 13th as the most given opera world-wide. Its success started at the very opening night, in spite of a disastrous cast that featured a German soprano with diction difficulties, a stammering tenor, and in the words of Donizetti himself, a French baritone who “wasn’t worth much,” and a buffo “with the voice of a goat.” Given its unanimous good reception from critics and from the public alike, it enjoyed the status of most performed Italian opera for a good decade, and never stopped being popular ever since. Unlike other Bel Canto operas that focus on the soprano, L’Elisir highlights admirably the tenor voice, featuring in Una Furtiva Lagrima one of the most celebrated tenor arias of all time, which launched Caruso’s career in 1900 at La Scala, conducted by Arturo Toscanini.

    Why is it so good? Because of its admirable facility in switching from comedy to deep expression of emotions. The score is lively and light where it needs to be, and impassioned and pungent when this is what is called for. It goes from Rossini-inspired pater songs to the lyricism of the bassoon obbligato in its signature hit tune. By defining it as a melodramma giocoso instead of a plain buffo comedy, Donizetti impacts on it a range of emotions that is sure to please various segments of the public. There is enough pathos, but it is certainly very funny in many other moments. Its plot is simple and charming, and basically inspired by a form that is guaranteed to work: that of the Commedia dell’Arte, with its stock characters of a swaggering soldier, a cunning quack doctor, and the classic Pierrot (Nemorino) pining for the love of his fickle Colombina (Adina). The characters are aptly named: Adina is the Hebrew-derived name for “lovely,” Nemorino is a diminutive of the Latin Nemo, literally meaning “little nobody,” while Belcore is Italian for “handsome heart” and Dulcamara stands for “bittersweet” and is also the name of a traditional popular remedy of the time, used to treat all ailments.

    Bartlett Sher in this new production for the Met adopted an approach that is certainly interesting. While Donizetti was mostly apolitical, at the time when this opera was being written, discontent was brewing in Italy with the Austrian invaders – something that would result twenty years later in the Risorgimento movement so dear to Verdi. Mr. Sher underlines the political landscape by making of the soldiers a very nasty bunch. They clearly mistreat the villagers, push women around, beat men up. Belcore doesn’t look like the bon vivant of some other productions, but rather engages in some oppressor behavior. His relationship to Adina verges on the abusive. He grabs and gropes her, and she seems unhappy and appeasing at times.

    © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

    Just like Matthew Polenzani told us in his interview with us, this is a physical L’Elisir that escapes a bit the good-natured comedy. Still, it is funny enough. When we met backstage after the performance, I asked Matthew for an update on his statement. He said that in the last week and a half after we spoke, the production grew in the comedic sense.

    The sets are those of a traditional Italian village in the first half of the 19th century – no Basque landscape like in some renditions of the piece. They are pretty enough and realistic-looking but are not the best feature of this show – although the scene with Adina’s final admission of love is done in a beautiful rural field that has the most enticing looks of the various sets.

    The costumes on the other hand are delightful. Anna looks positively charming with her hat.

    © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

    When she comes out in a white gown for the failed wedding ceremony, the public gasps.

    © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

    Dulcamara’s outfit is appropriately over-the-top and very funny.

    © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

    The soldiers look good, and the villagers are sexy, with some of the gorgeous Met chorus ladies showing some generous cleavage.

    © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

    The sexy approach is also underlined by some slightly risqué action between Adina and Nemorino, especially when she pulls him to the ground on top of her, at the very end in the scene when the two lovers are surprised by Belcore, who then gives up on the prospective bride.

    Acting is very good by all involved. Matthew indeed *can* be funny – a point he stressed in his first interview with us, when he invited us back to check it out, and I concede the point. He also showed great delicacy of acting in the more pungent moments. Anna was her usual self as a great performer. Some of the moments when Adina really eats the food in the wedding banquet – overeats a little and gets her wrist slapped by her friend Giannetta – are precious. Kudos to Ambrogio Maestri who is spectacular as Dulcamara - the scene when he is eating spaghetti is great.

    © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

    Mariusz Kwiecien is entirely convincing as the arrogant Belcore.

    Musically, the evening couldn’t be better. We get a veteran Italian conductor who really knows his trade in Maurizio Benini, who gets a wonderful performance from the Met Orchestra.

    Anne-Carolyn Bird in the comprimario role of Giannetta is correct with her light voice. Kwiecien doesn’t disappoint either as Belcore.

    © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

    The three stars of the night, however, are a flawless, seasoned Maestri, and a principal pair of singers who pass all possible evaluations with flying colors.

    One word about Matthew Polenzani: I can’t understand why he is underestimated at times. Some blogs call him a “generic” tenor. I think he has very fine technique and a beautiful voice. So seems to believe the Met casting department and musical director, since Matthew, a still young tenor, by now is clocking in more than 250 Met performances in 29 different roles. Covent Garden, Opéra National de Paris, Vienna State Opera and La Scala seem to agree, as confirmed by his numerous appearances in these fine houses. It is not for nothing that he won the 2008 Beverly Sills Award. Appropriate credit is overdue for this great tenor. His Una Furtiva Lagrima is a very fine one, in which he goes for delicacy rather than for power, a very good choice that had the 4,000 members of the audience mesmerized in religious silence during his elegant Italianate phrasing, erupting in long applause afterwards. It is a very satisfying Nemorino.

    © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

    Backstage, I talked to Matthew about the idea expressed by our Schigolch that it would be interesting at some point to feature a Nemorino that seems triumphant during Una Furtiva Lagrima, rather than emotional and a bit on the sad side, since after all at this point he believes that the elixir is working, and he sees in Adina’s tear proof that he loves him – which leads to his ecstatic affirmation “M’ama!” (she loves me). Matthew disagrees. He tells me that in his opinion, the sadness is given by the finality of this accomplishment, when Nemorino says he could die, from this point on, and wouldn’t care. It is like reaching the peak of one’s existence and being a bit shaken by how to proceed, from this point on. Nothing else seems to matter. Good point, I concede. Matthew says he hasn’t ever seen anybody taking this aria with a triumphal twist, but adds that this is why opera is so enticing: that different people can read different nuances in these moments.

    © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

    And then, well, we get Anna Netrebko. I may be a bit biased when talking about her, since as you all know, I’m a big fan. But hey, where is the lady who some believed, couldn’t trill, and didn’t have enough diction or voice agility for Bel Canto? If these objections could arguably be sustained a few years back, she has certainly learned all that there is to learn. I thought that her vocal performance in this opening night was simply perfect. Trill? Check. Agility? Check – even though this is certainly not the most notable characteristic of her voice, she can do it. Diction? Crystalline. Great projection? Check. Acting? Like I said, fine as always. Looks? Well, I personally think they’re the best in the business, these days. And then, we get that gorgeous timbre. Adina doesn’t get much better than this.

    © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

    Overall, I give an A to opening night – not an A+, given the relatively unimaginative sets – but everything else works, with a great cast that treats us to fabulous acting and singing. A good start for the 2012-13 season! And the pomp and luxury of gala night, with the crowds gathering to see live opera inside the sold-out house and outside the theater (at Times Square and the Lincoln Center plaza) reassure me that the art form is doing just fine, thank you.


    Don't miss Opera Lively's exclusive interviews with the two principal artists: Anna Netrebko's is [here], and Matthew Polenzani's is [here]. If you came to this page from another site, do explore our content with many great interviews by clicking on Articles, and don't miss our discussion Forum. Please consider registering as a member in order to post your own comments, it's for free. Thank you for visiting Opera Lively.

    Disclaimer: all production pictures above were used with authorization of the Met Press Department.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Donizetti: L’Elisir d’Amore – 2012-2013 Season Opening Night at the Met started by Almaviva View original post
    Comments 16 Comments
    1. MAuer's Avatar
      MAuer -
      You chatted with Matthew afterward but didn't say hello to Anna???
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      No need to! I had a full appointment with her scheduled for today, and I have just completed an interview with her.

      You can read it here: [clicky]
    1. MAuer's Avatar
      MAuer -
      I spotted it as soon as I signed in today. Wow!! I'm sure word about it will spread quickly among her fans.
    1. Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
      Ann Lander (sospiro) -
      Great report Alma!

      To be there for the opening night of the first opera in a new season & then to interview Ms Netrebko - sounds like it was an experience of a lifetime!
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Yes, I can't complain! This trip was fabulous. Interviewing Anna face-to-face was a great experience, and meeting Matthew again was also very nice; I really like him both as a singer and as a person. Both these singers are not only very good in their technique, but also down-to-earth persons who are delightful to talk to. Another good point of this trip was that I allowed myself some time to relax in New York City, see old friends, have a couple of great gourmet meals, without loading the schedule with an interview after the other which caused me some tiredness last time I was there in April, and some really serious work overload in July. I've decided to take a slower pace on this journalistic side of Opera Lively, and to do these interviews a bit less often. We do have one with Saimir Pirgu scheduled for tomorrow, though, and while I won't announce it yet, I got two really *great* conductors who have agreed with interviews (but they're being scheduled for a few months from now), and our first interview with a famous video director is coming up, hopefully. It's nice to not only provide to our readers interviews with singers, but also with conductors, stage directors, video directors, composers, and scholars, since these tend to be very educational.

      @MAuer - I forgot to give you credit for the help with questions for Anna; the oversight has been corrected.
    1. MAuer's Avatar
      MAuer -
      Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
      @MAuer - I forgot to give you credit for the help with questions for Anna; the oversight has been corrected.
      No problem -- I'm always happy to lend a hand. I'm just glad you had such a fabulous trip to the Big Apple.
    1. Opera-poet's Avatar
      Opera-poet -
      I agree vehemently about your comment regarding Matthew Polenzani! He is my favorite tenor! He is much under appreciated. Hopefully, this portrayal of Nemorino and his tackling "Werther" later in Chicago will grant him the respectful credit he deserves.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Quote Originally Posted by Opera-poet View Post
      I agree vehemently about your comment regarding Matthew Polenzani! He is my favorite tenor! He is much under appreciated. Hopefully, this portrayal of Nemorino and his tackling "Werther" later in Chicago will grant him the respectful credit he deserves.
      Absolutely. I think he *has* more than enough credit with the people who really count: the ones who decide about the casting. He's been successful everywhere. I mean, the guy has been singing the most important principal roles at the Met with great co-workers, has been doing it well, and people still doubt him? It's a matter of a certain segment of the press (mostly some blogs who love to put down people) to catch up with the reality of his success and realize how good he is. You can't do what he's been doing repeatedly in the best opera houses of the world and *not* be first rate. It just doesn't happen. Like the saying goes, you can fool some people all the time, you can fool a lot of people for some time, but you can't fool a lot of people all the time. It's not so easy to sustain this top casting for so long and in so many different roles in the leading opera houses in the world without being darn good.

      And welcome to Opera Lively, Opera-Poet!
    1. Opera-poet's Avatar
      Opera-poet -
      Thanks! When I hope that Matthew gets the "respectful credit" he deserves, I mean having his name written in the Pantheon of Tenors!
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Yep. "Our" Matthew (we've interviewed him twice and I always get a little protective of our interviewees) does belong already to Opera Lively's Pantheon of Tenors, hehehe.
    1. Aksel's Avatar
      Aksel -
      Just came back from the encore presentation of this, and I have things to say (this was also posted over on that other forum).

      Singing-wise, it was rather good, although it is a very good thing indeed that Trebs is moving away from this repertoire. Girl does not have the voice to sing Adina any longer. Maestri was I think the highpoint of the show, although I do wish he could have hammed it up a bit with the patter. Kwiecien was good, although a tad shouty at times. Also way too much slapping about.
      But the real enigma of this performance, at least when it came to the singing, was Matthew Polenzani. He sings very well indeed, all (well, at least most) of the notes are there, but they are delivered with no sense of conviction, something that was also apparent in his acting, which seemed lifeless (just look at his EYES!). I could not help but feel that Rolando Villazon would have been a much better fit.

      The Met orchestra delivered an OK performance, teetering on the side of dull. I blame Benini.

      Now, concerning Bart Sher's production: I have a problem with it. Well, not just one; I have several, the biggest one being the complete and utter lack of any vision in the production. He has stated several times in interviews and the like that he wanted to set this Elisir during the Risorgimento, the process that eventually led to a united Italy. He does this by dressing the soldiers and Belcore in what I guess are supposed to be Risorgimento-like uniforms. What a shame it is that light blue really isn't a very good colour for uniforms. But the thing is that Sher can't shoehorn his Risorgimento concept into the opera, and so it just falls flat (rather like he did with the supposedly Kafka-esque Tales of Hoffman and whatever it was he was trying to do with the Comte Ory). Still, I won't deny that it is a handsome production, but Sher seems to have devised the production first, and the concept later. Like that, it just ends up a clunky, confusing and first and foremost bad piece of Regietheater.

      Also, someone needs to learn Mr. Sher how to direct a chorus. It was either complete standstill or super hyper. Nicht gut.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      While you saw a different performance than the one I saw and these things can vary from show to show in the same run, I couldn't disagree more with certain things you said about the singing and the acting. I thought that both Anna and Matthew were superb in both regards, and Anna still has the ability to sing Adina - actually, I thought that vocally she did better this time than in previous attempts. With other things you said I do agree - Maestri was great, and yes, the Risorgimento concept wasn't entirely successful (although I didn't feel it was as offensive as you seem to have felt). About the chorus, its movement on stage or lack thereof didn't bother me, I've seen a lot worse. This wasn't one of those performances where the chorus members bump into each other or get in the way of the principal singers. Anyway, I admit to some bias given that as you all know, I like very much the two principal singers, but I did enjoy this show quite a lot. This said, I reiterate once more that what one sees in a given performance in a run is not necessarily what happens in another one. In the few occasions when I saw a show twice, there were quite striking differences. Sometimes singers deliver outstanding acting and at other times they are tired, uninterested, and just don't put the same energy into it. Singing is even more dependent on intervening factors - just being a little less hydrated that day, or the pollen content of the air being higher resulting in some throat congestion, or the relative humidity being different, or the resting time between performances being shorter, etc., etc., can account for extremely variable singing in two shows of the same run. I saw the opening night, when everybody was rested and trying to do well (since it was also the gala opening of the season with all the press there, etc.) so maybe we are talking about apples and oranges.
    1. Schigolch's Avatar
      Schigolch -
    1. Aksel's Avatar
      Aksel -
      I did think Anna was good, especially during the second act, but I think it's good that she's moving out of the -inas and -ettas, as she referred to them, and into heavier rep.

      When it comes to Polenzani, I thought he sang really, really well, but his acting seemed rather lifeless. Although I guess the fact that there were cameras present and closeups galore can take some of the blame. But still; I wasn't feeling it.

      And it may very well be that I'm being overly critical of Sher's production because I really do not like his other productions, except possibly the Barber he did ages ago.
    1. Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
      Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) -
      Yes, I can't comment on Matthew's acting for the HD show since I haven't seen it. I believe that the presence of the cameras can have a huge impact on the artist - they know there will be close-ups so they probably try to overact less (traditionally opera singers do need to overact a little so that the emotions reach the far sides of the house, unlike cinema), which might explain why Matthew was less intense. Yes, I loved Anna's singing. But yes, it's good that she is moving on. I just said that she can still do it.

      For me, Sher's concept didn't come through just in the choice of costumes - the behavior of the soldiers and of Belcore in my opinion did convey the oppressive feeling that he intended to evoke as a precursor for the Resurgimento era. So, this Elisir was less of a light comedy as compared to other productions. I found it intriguing. I wasn't particularly thrilled by it, but I thought it was OK, although, like I said, not the strongest point of the evening.

      So maybe we disagree less than what it initially seemed. Which is fine, disagreement is healthy, and in this case, when we're commenting on two difference shows of the same production, even more likely.

      When I said "the few occasions when I saw twice the same show" - I've never been to two live shows of the same run, like sospiro for instance likes to do. It's been always a production I saw live, then I saw it on video (either the Met HD series, or a DVD, or streaming) - and almost invariably, there are significant differences. I believe that other than the various factors I've commented upon (fatigue, weather, throat condition, etc.), the presence of the cameras must be the most essential modifier. These are seasoned singers, but still, it must make a huge difference for them. I bet they're a lot more relaxed when the cameras are not there, and I bet that they change their acting when they know close-ups will be all over the place.

      Seeing a production live and then on video has been rare for me, for the sheer reason of cost containment. When I travel to NYC to see the Met productions live, I usually avoid spending additional money on Met in HD tickets. It's a drop of water in an ocean since going there in person is a lot more expensive, but I've been trying to contain costs as best as I can since I've been doing a lot of opera traveling lately and it's becoming horribly expensive.

      So, this upcoming Otello in HD I won't see, because I have tickets to see it live later. But I will see The Tempest since I don't have live tickets for that.
    1. Operabug's Avatar
      Operabug -
      I loved this performance. I think that everyone did a great job. I love Anna so, just like Almaviva, it hard for me to see her flaws, if there are any. I watched it live in HD and thought that acting was great! Matthew was really good, and perhaps cameras did influence the performance but I wouldn't agree that Matthew was bad, or didn't act well..I was, actually, quite surprised..

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