by MICHAEL J. OPPERMAN
Act I opens on a piazza floating in a bucolic Italian countryside. As idyllic as a scene from a Sophia Loren movie. Field workers and townspeople move around the square. We see our first glimpse of Nemorino (Leonardo Capalbo), the erstwhile hero of the story. Expressive and charismatic, Capalbo wanders the square. When Adina (Nicole Cabell) enters the scene, Nemorino is riveted and aware of her every movement. With an offhanded confidence and a whiff of entitlement, Adina reads on the steps pretending to be unaware of the people milling about below. The people below are just as enamored of Adina as Nemorino, rapt when she begins to read from a book.
Nemorino’s love seems unrequited and Adina encourages him to leave the town. But he is unrelenting. And then tortured when she shines her affections on the pompous, ridiculous Belcore (David Pershall), an officer temporarily in the town. Hope arrives for Nemorino when a peddler of quack medicines arrives with the ‘elixir of love’ (in actuality a bottle of cheap Bordeaux with the label torn off). Dr. Dulcamara (Andrew Wilkowske) is a dandy in a purple suit, entertaining with his flim flam shtick. Wilkowske’s Dr. Dulcamara is right out of the great book of questionable doctors that extends back through Oz, Dr. Caligari, Moliere and Chaucer. There is also a clear and satisfying influence of commedia dell’arte. Dr. Dulcamara’s annoyance at the naivety and insistence of Nemorino is hilarious, and an example of the many strengths of Donzetti’s work and the stage direction by Helena Binder.
Like Lucia di Lammermoor and Maria Padilla, The Elixir of Love exhibits tropes and compositional elements that clearly influenced Verdi. The Elixir of Love is one of the strongest comedic works of Donzetti, with dynamic character interactions: Adina and Nemorino, Nemorino and Dr. Dulcamara, Nemorino and Belcore, Adina and Belcore. The interplays are laugh out loud funny, due to the incredible acting talent of the performers.
Pershall is a surprise, playing Belcore with just the right balance of arrogance and buffoonery. There is a thin threat of menace which keeps the tension interesting, and an obliviousness borne of unquestioned confidence that is truly comedic.
Cabell is wonderful; her voice has a rich, layered beauty. Her arias have clarity and a joyful conviction, and her Adina tempts and teases her suitors with a vague thoughtlessness that is fun to watch. The dance of attraction and resistance between Adina and Nemorino is compelling. It is hard to imagine a better casting than Cabell and Capalbo. Capalbo plays his Nemorino with the ease of a mid-century physical actor and his voice moves from assuredness to plaintiveness seamlessly.
This opera has been described as a reverse Cinderella story. Nemorino, the field hand, courts and wins the heart of a Adina, the town’s aristocracy. The Elixir of Love is yet another wonderful staging of Donzetti by the Minnesota Opera. And Capalbo and Cabell are just not to be missed.
The Elixir of Love. Music by Gaetano Donzetti. Libretto by Felice Romani. Conducted by Leonardo Vordoni. Presented by the Minnesota Opera, January 24, 25, 29, 31, and February 1, 2015. Information at http://www.mnopera.org/