Review: Austin Lyric Opera’s ‘The Elixir of Love’
The scene’s a familiar one, an Italian village of a certain period, buzzing with the chatter of (rather well-dressed) peasants enjoying a drink after work.
Our eyes turn to Nemorino (Italian for “little nobody”), brooding over his amore, Adina, the farm owner, who seems quite out of his reach (especially considering he hasn’t plucked up the courage to mention how he feels).
But Nemorino’s sullen situation is disrupted by the arrival of a group of soldiers, led by the dapper (and pompous) Sergeant Belcore, who seems to employ those soldiers primarily as men-in-waiting, attending to him with grooming mirror and mouthwash. Of course, Adina is instantly taken with the lug, much to our hero’s surprise.
“The Elixir of Love,” is the Austin Lyric Opera’s season finale at the Long Center this weekend, a compact, breezy comedy that doesn’t make us wait for the melodies — they come in the opening minutes — or set the scene with elaborate overtures.
If the Sergeant messes things up for our hero, he also lights a fire under him. When Dr. Dulcamara arrives (played by the hilarious Peter Strummer), in what appears to be a vintage pedicab, he sells the gullible Nemorino a love potion — actually just the bottle of Bordeaux the good doctor was planning on having with supper. Comedy ensues.
Strummer — who played a similar comic role for ASO’s “Italian Girl in Algiers” several years ago — gets all the best lines in listing the astounding variety of cures covered by his potion. There’s also some social critique in his sly jokes about wealth and privilege.
This production’s voices had a mixed showing. Adina (soprano Sara Gartland) belted out some soaring phrases, but also voiced practically every line with a tight vibrato, to the point of sameness. As Dr. Dulcamara Strummer’s bass voice radiates with character, but he was often falling behind the baton.
Luckily, our hero is played by Rene Barbera, the San Antonio native with a world-class tenor (and a budding world-class career). He’s a special singer, the sort whose golden tone follows him in his entire range, even in his quietest moments. No slouch as an actor either, with good physicality and well-timed looks and movements. The crowd approved.
Gianetta (Austinite Sara Ann Mitchell) doesn’t have much of a part here, but her elegant soprano certainly made the most of her short solos.
The big, buoyant ensemble (led by Marc David Erck) really gets put to work, and their enthusiasm helps carry the opera along its merry way. The scene with Nemorino’s suprise suitors was especially worth savoring. Lovely pastel costumes by Susan Allred, as well.
Under the steady baton of Principal Conductor Richard Buckley, the orchestra whips through this one at a merry pace, and positively shone in solos, especially the bassoon in Nemorino’s second act aria, “Una Furtiva Lagrima.”
Not that our hero has many reasons to shed “lagrimas.”
‘The Elixir of Love’ continues through May 4. www.austinlyricopera.org