Friday, September 18, 2009

Reverend's Reviews: A Lovely Night at the Opera

LA Opera's 2009-2010 season got off to a tuneful start this week with Donizetti's charming The Elixir of Love (L'Elisir d'Amore). This light-hearted but romantic and affecting romp set in and around an Italian farm plays at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion through September 30. While the staging isn't perfect, the production provides the opportunity to see and hear three young — and not unattractive — male rising stars of the opera world!

First performed in 1832, the opera concerns the efforts of the simple peasant Nemorino to win the heart of the wealthy Adina. Both find inspiration in the saga of Tristan and Isolde, who were brought together in love despite similar circumstances with the help of a magical potion. Both a traveling huckster by the name of Dr. Dulcamara and a military platoon led by the dashing-but-smarmy Sgt. Belcore arrive in town one day. The story becomes something of a race against time as Nemorino tries to confound Adina's sudden engagement and impending marriage to Belcore via a "magic potion" Dulcamara has conveniently provided him.

While the Angelina Jolie-esque Nino Machaidze, a soprano from Georgia of the former USSR making her US debut, wowed the audience at the performance I attended — and justifiably so — as Adina, I want to focus on the aforementioned male leads. Italian tenor Giuseppe Filianoti, making his LA Opera debut, is a splendid Nemorino. He has an endearing physical presence in addition to an excellent voice, and one cannot help but sympathize with him in his character's innocent quest for idyllic love.

Baritone Nathan Gunn, widely regarded as one of the leading talents as well as the sexiest man in opera today, plays Belcore. He doesn't fail to cut a striking figure here in his officer's uniform, and continues to make an impression with both his athleticism and his vocal instrument.

However, the wild card in LA Opera's production is 28-year old Giorgio Caoduro, an Italian baritone making his LA Opera debut ... albeit unexpectedly. The renowned Ruggero Raimondi had been expected to play Dr. Dulcamara until he became in need of a doctor himself. Sadly, Raimondi ruptured his Achilles tendon during rehearsals two weeks ago for what was to be his LA Opera debut (he is reportedly recuperating well). Caoduro stepped into the role at fairly short notice.

Though Raimondi is more age-appropriate for the role, Caoduro proved himself a more-than-adequate substitute. He was full-voiced, energetic and funny, especially in his interactions with Nemorino and Dulcamara's dwarf assistant. That, and Caoduro's super-cute even with his gray hair coloring and less-than-form-fitting costume.

Unfortunately, there are a few missteps in this production of The Elixir of Love. Soprano Valerie Vinzant, while eye-catching as Nemorino's sympathetic lady friend Giannetta, was disappointingly short on volume. Director Stephen Lawless — who should know better — has some of the male cast members come on stage for the sole, distracting purpose of moving scenery before Adina's and Dulcamara's Act II duet is finished. Also, at the performance I attended the curtain rose halfway prior to the end of intermission, exposing numerous befuddled-looking chorus members. If this was intentional, I didn't understand the purpose. I doubt the chorus members did either.

I recommend LA Opera's season opener and am looking forward to the remainder of this season, which will include parts 3 and 4 of Wagner's Ring Cycle (and all four chapters performed together next summer) as well as Handel's Tamerlano, Rossini's The Barber of Seville, Renee Fleming and Thomas Hampson in recital, and The Stigmatized by Franz Schreker, which was believed lost under the Nazis.

For more on the LA Opera and all their future productions, visit their official website.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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