Monday, June 7, 2010

The Elixir of Love (Movie Glutton Opera Edition)

For the second installment of the 2010 Fort Worth Opera festival, we were treated to a delightful performance of Gaetano Donizetti's The Elixir of Love (L'elisir d'amore).  Rather than setting the action in an Italian village, the Fort Worth Opera set this classic, sung in Italian, in a stereotypical turn-of-the-century town in the American heartland.  I kept thinking of The Music Man; the set was dominated by a large bandstand like the one in The Music Man.
Elixir opens with Nemorino, a poor ice cream vendor (that's his ice cream truck on the left) expressing his love for the lovely but aloof Adina.  Adina doesn't give him the time of day; she only has eyes for Belcore, a sergeant in the unit passing through town.  Adina, the town booklover, tells the story of Tristan and Isolde, in which a love potion plays a prominent role.  When Dr. Dulcamara, a traveling huxter, comes to town, Nemorino asks him if he has a love potion that would make Adina love him.  (By the way, I googled Dulcamara.  Solanum dulcamara is a plant with very attractive yet toxic berries.)  Happy to oblige, and sensing that Nemorino's not too bright, he sells Nemorino a bottle of cheap wine, convincing him that it's the love potion he's looking for.  Comedy ensues.
From here the story is pretty predictable, as romantic comedies go, but very entertaining.  If this hasn't been reinterpreted in modern movies or sit-coms, I'd be surprised.  I was surprised by the amount of slapstick humor here.  Last night the kids were watching Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel and laughed uproariously when the toy motorcycle hit the evil Ian in the crotch.  Tonight the oh-so-cultured opera crowd also got a good laugh when Nemorino racked his rival in love Belcore.  As Gene Kelly sang in Singing in the Rain, "You can study Shakespeare and be quite elite . . . Just slip on a banana peel [or punch someone in the privates] the world's at your feet!  Make 'em laugh, make 'em laugh, make 'em laugh!"  Some of the humor is in the libretto, of course, but some of the added physical humor was clearly artistic license.

As I have come to expect from the Fort Worth Opera, the singing was top-notch.  Ava Pine as Adina and tenor Michael Fabiano as Nemorino were fantastic, as was bass Rod Nelman as Dr. Dulcamara.  The players from the Fort Worth Symphony played to their usual perfection, and Bass Hall itself provided the perfect room.  We sit in the cheap seats, and I am always amazed at the acoustics in Bass Hall.  The singers use no microphones, yet even in the upper gallery, we never miss a note.
I think it's pretty cool that an opera from the early part of the 19th century, reset in the early 20th century, can still feel fresh and timely in the early 21st century.  It's not that its themes are deep and profound, it's just that romantic love and the silliness that often surrounds it haven't changed.  In Donizetti's day, it was the traveling salesman.  In early 20th century America, it was the updated snake oil salesman.  If this were set in today's America, I guess it would be the late-night infomercial or the "herbal supplements" advertised in the sports section of the paper.  Whatever the era, men want to be loved, women want to be courted, and there's no magic formula to make love happen.

For more insightful and informed reviews, take a look at these:
The Star-Telegram's review
D Magazine's review

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