Appealing young cast proves captivating in City Opera’s “Elisir”

March 23, 2011
By George Loomis

Stefania Dovhan and David Lomeli as Adina and Nemorino in New York City Opera's "L'Elisir d'amore." Photo: Carol Rosegg

It wasn’t all that long ago—2006 to be precise—that Jonathan Miller’s production of L’Elisir d’Amore was introduced at the New York City Opera.  But it seems like the distant past given all the travails the company has endured since.  The stripped-down company’s current season includes only five principal productions.  But you have to give it credit for choosing adventuresome repertoire.  L’Elisir is the only standard opera represented.

Still, Donizetti’s warmhearted comedy is always welcome, and the opera returned to the David H. Koch Theater last night to work its captivating effect.  Not that Miller’s production establishes any record for insight or innovation.  The action takes place in and around Adina’s Diner (shades of Despina’s Diner in Peter Sellars’s production of Così fan tutte), which is situated rather forlornly in a very wide open space of the American Southwest (Isabella Bywater is the designer).  The diner has an active clientele, but you wonder where all these people come from, since there is otherwise no sign of life.

The time is the 1950s.  Dr. Dulcamara’s mode of travel—described in the libretto as a golden carriage but indelibly associated by many with a hot air balloon— is here a Ford convertible.  But there was a glitch last night, because the quack doctor made his entrance by foot, with the car arriving only later.

The staging (revived by A. Scott Parry) ensures that the principals are a lively bunch, but they and the chorus often seem to be hearing rock music rather than Donizetti and comport themselves disconcertingly, as if on a dance floor.  However, an inspired touch comes during the orchestral prelude to Una furtiva lagrima when Adina, having finished discussing with Dulcamara her strategy for dealing with Nemorino, encounters him entering just as she leaves the stage.  They look at each other awkwardly and although they don’t speak there is ample opportunity for Nemorino to discern the “secret tear” in her eye, which he proceeds to expound on in his aria.

The City Opera today is a company very different from the one its former director Paul Kellogg left behind, and not just in terms of financial condition.  Just about every production brings a host of debuts, and Elisir is no exception.  The cast is well balanced, though not one for the history books.  One of the debutants, David Lomeli, sang the lovesick Nemorino with an appealing lyric tenor well suited to the early 19th-century Italian repertoire, though one notes he also sings Verdi and Puccini.  He won the audience’s affection at once with his gracefully phrased cavatina Quanto è bella and offered a polished account of Una furtiva lagrima. His tone quality was a little inconsistent, though, and not always as sweet as one would like.

In another debut, José Adán Pérez, dressed in a khaki U.S. uniform, made a fine impression as Sergeant Belcore, bringing to the role a hearty measure of braggadocio and a solid, engaging baritone.  The singer’s short stature added to the appeal of his vigorous portrayal.  As Giannetta, Meredith Lustig, a bright-voiced soprano, also made a mark in a company debut.  The role is a small one but allows the singer to shine in the delightful scene wherein Giannetta clandestinely informs the village girls of Nemorino’s inheritance, and Lustig made much of it.

Stefania Dovhan’s strong, glinting soprano emphasizes that Adina—who loves Nemorino but strings him on—is no reticent soubrette but a woman of experience.  Her unmistakably Slavonic sound (the singer is Ukrainian) is sometimes a little harsh for the music’s good, but she sang with welcome tenderness in her touching aria near the end, after she has bought back Nemorino’s army commission.  Marco Nisticò’s Dulcamara is verbally dexterous but undernourished vocally.  He puts false teeth in his mouth for the barcarolle duet with Adina, thereby continuing the unfortunate tradition having Dulcamara sing one of Donizetti’s most captivating melodies while sounding like an old man.

In a generally appealing debut, conductor Brad Cohen stressed crispness and buoyancy over energy but observed most of the time dishonored traditional cuts in the score.

Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore runs through April 9.; 212-721-6500.

One Response to “Appealing young cast proves captivating in City Opera’s “Elisir””

  1. Posted Mar 30, 2011 at 8:13 am by liricospinster

    I thought Meredith Lustig was intoxicating herself! Her beauty and flirtatiousness coupled with a young, vibrant, shimmering soprano often upstaged Adina. This is one young soprano to keep your eyes and ears on!