Notes and Editorial Reviews
Rolando Villazón brings both comedy and pathos to the role of Nemorino, the naïve hero of Donizetti’s comedy L’elisir d’amore in a 2005 production from Barcelona’s Liceu
When Donizetti’s comedy, updated to the mid-20th century by the Uruguayan-born director Mario Gas, was mounted at Barcelona’s magnificent Liceu opera house in 2005, Opera News wrote that: “The absolute hit of the production was … Rolando Villazón, a commanding, vulnerable and hilarious Nemorino. His stage presence dominated every scene he was in …[and] his lovable innocence was a joy to behold. Villazón’s perfect technique and creamy, malleable voice conquered the audience … His athletic and expressive body language — midway between
Cantinflas and Mr. Bean — fits this role and this production perfectly.”
Rolando Villazón can already be seen and heard as Nemorino on another Virgin Classics DVD, released in 2006. His partners in that more traditionally rustic production from Vienna were Anna Netrebko, Leo Nucci and Ildebrando d’Arcangelo; here they are Spanish soprano Maria Bayo as the wealthy and capricious Adina, Italian baritone Bruno Praticò as Dulcamara, the pedlar of the so-called elixir of love -- in fact just red wine in disguise -- and French baritone Jean-Luc Chaignaud as the swaggering sergeant Belcore.
ConcertoNet judged that: “This production illuminates the work and gives it meaning … Maria Bayo is a refined, subtle Adina whose voice serves the music wonderfully … Rolando Villazón is the ideal Nemorino, succeeding in presenting a young man who is somewhat clueless, but also formidably intelligent … The voice, of course, is exceptional ... Jean-Luc Chaignaud, with his splendid stage presence, is ideally suited to the character of Belcore, making his entrance through the Liceu’s auditorium and saluting the audience, while his singing gives the officer a real stature with its power and authority … Bruno Praticò savours every moment as a comical and fundamentally good-natured Dulcamara … Daniele Callegari’s conducting is excellent, bringing an animation and electricity that makes the whole opera even more delicious … All in all, a great evening.”
From the Gran Teatre del Liceu
Gaetano Donizetti 1797-1848
Opera in due atti. Libretto: Felice Romani
Adina - María Bayo
Nemorino - Rolando Villazón
Belcore - Jean-Luc Chaignaud
Doctor Dulcamara - Bruno Praticò
Giannetta - Cristina Obregón
Moretto - José Luis Pérez
Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu
Musical Director - Daniele Callegari
Stage Director - Mario Gas
Set & Costume Design - Marcelo Grande
Lighting Design - Quico Gutiérrez (A.A.I.)
Assistant Stage Director - José Antonio Gutiérrez
Chorus Master - José Luis Basso
TV Director - Xavi Bové
Recorded Live at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, June 2005
A Gran Teatre del Liceu production
Running time 152 minutes / colour / NTSC system 16.9 / DVD Format: 1 DVD (DVD-9) / Sound Format LPCM Stereo / Dolby 5.0 Surround / DTS 5.1 surround
Menu screens: English
Subtitles English, Français, Deutsch, Español, Catalan, Italiano
After the success of
Anna Bolena in 1830, Donizetti’s position as one of Italy’s leading opera composers was assured. However, like his compatriots Rossini and Bellini, he was to discover that such success and approbation did not guarantee that the works to follow would be similarly acclaimed whatever their manifest musical merits. Between the premiere of
Anna Bolena and that of
L’Elisir d’Amore in May 1832, Donizetti composed five operas none of which was successful at the time, one not being staged until 1839! Frustrated by the censors in Naples always wanting happy endings, the composer broke his contract, freeing himself to accept more frequent commissions elsewhere. He was approached to write an opera for the Canobbiana theatre in Milan when the contracted composer withdrew. The great, if vain and undependable poet, Romani, produced a libretto in a week; Donizetti composed the music in a little over two. It was an overwhelming success and received an unprecedented 31 performances.
L’Elisir d’Amore is more opera buffa than comic opera but the style of the melodic music superbly conveys the conflicting emotions of the participants. The work has always had a place in the repertoire both in Italy and other major operatic centres.
The story of
L’Elisir d’Amore concerns the illiterate, rather gauche, country boy Nemorino (tenor) who loves Adina (soprano), a wealthy neighbour, who spurns his offers of love. There is no pastoral countryside in this production. It is set among what look like suburban apartment blocks: shops on the ground floor with habitations above, accessed by an open stairway. Adina seems to work or run the local bar-cum-coffee shop whilst Nemorino sells magazines from a stall. Costumes for the ladies are patterned cotton, often flowered. Adina seems to work, or run, the local bar-cum-coffee shop whilst Nemorino sells magazines from a stall. As he watches her reading a magazine from his stall, he sings
Quanto e bella, extolling her beauty (Ch.4). She sings to her friends of the love potion that bound Tristan and Isolde. Hearing her, Nemorino dreams of obtaining such a potion (Ch.5). A lively march heralds the arrival of Sergeant Belcore and his platoon (Ch.6), via the auditorium. Belcore quickly impresses Adina and proposes marriage whilst Nemorino tries to convince her of the sincerity of his love. With a fanfare Doctor Dulcamara (buffa bass), a quack spiv arrives, selling a
cure-all potion (Ch.10). In the cavatina
Udite, udite, o rustici he extols the virtues of his elixir (Ch.11) and convinces Nemorino that his potion will bring Adina to love him. The naïve boy buys a bottle with what money he has. In reality the potion is nothing more than red wine. Nemorino keeps sipping it and soon becomes more confident albeit slightly tipsy. He feigns indifference to Adina, which nettles her, and she promises to marry Belcore in six days time (Ch.15). Meanwhile, Belcore learns, by period telephone, not a mobile in sight thank goodness, that he and his troop have to leave that day and that he and Adina must marry that evening. Having no further money to purchase more of Dulcamara’s elixir, in desperation Nemorino signs to join Belcore’s troop and, convinced of its effects, spends his bounty in the hope of a miracle. The local girls learn that Nemorino has come into an inheritance and fawn over him (Ch.27). He is even more convinced it is the effect of Dulcamara’s potion. Meanwhile, Adina discovers from Dulcamara what Nemorino has done to buy the potion, and, realising why, she relents, buys out his contract and decides to win him by her eyes and smile (Ch.28). Nemorino notices a tear in her eye and sings the famous romanza
Una furtiva lagrima (Ch.29). Adina tells him of her love and all ends well with Belcore reflecting that there will always be girls in the next village (Ch.32). That said, in this productionm he is not as insouciant as the libretto implies and he threatens Nemorino with his pistol. Meanwhile Dulcamara ascribes all the happenings to his elixir in the patter aria
Ei correge ogni difetto - it corrects every defect - (Ch.33).
The Metropolitan Opera’s very naturalistic staging takes the story at its fairy-tale face value. The sets and costumes are in period and the scene changes are swift, facilitated by flown additions to a basic tiered stage and steps. The costumes are lavish and sets colourful. They complement the overall fun and gaiety of the music. Dr Dulcamara arrives in a resplendent coach drawn by mock horses whose articulated legs move (see
review)! The set and costumes in this production are updated to around the late 1930s. Belcore and his troop, looking like Franco fascisti, are recognisable as soldiers. Jean-Luc Chaignaud, tall and handsome and enhanced by his uniform with a pistol on his hip, is less convincing vocally with a lack of variety of tone, characterisation and with the odd raw patch. Dulcamara arrives via the sidecar attached to a motorcycle, pushed by a couple of helpers. It is hardly a Harley, but posh and polished nonetheless even if Bruno Pratico’s capacious figure hardly fits in or on it. Pratico lacks nothing for variety of vocal expression and is well able to milk every nuance of the words for maximum effect. However, his tone is now rather dry and lacking the fruity mellifluousness that Geraint Evans and Enzo Dara brought to the role in an earlier generation.
The two lovers are accomplished actors. Rolando Villazon’s hyper-activity and India rubber face can distort the simplicity of the work. His opening
Quanto e bella (Ch.4)
is well phrased and modulated with the voice well and evenly supported. His rendition of
Una furtiva lagrima Ch.29)
is likewise expressive without exaggeration and finishes with a quiet appealing legato; it brings the house down. Villazon, after standing for some time, is forced out of role and ultimately to reprise the aria; not quite as well the second time round (Ch.30). Vocal and facial exaggeration, and excessive forte singing, are obvious along the way, particularly as Nemorino becomes increasingly agitated at Adina’s wedding feast. Many will rightly hazard that this propensity, alongside the assumption of heavyweight roles, have taken their toll on what was once a fine lyric tenor voice and have in turn contributed to his extensive breaks from singing. As I write, in May 2010, and on the basis of recent performances in London, there are articles by renowned critics doubting if his voice will ever be as it was in its prime. It may be this 2005 performance was at the back end of a golden period for him.
Maria Bayo, Adina, is a local favourite. She is a true lyric soprano rather than the leggiero often cast in the role. She approaches the higher tessitura with some care albeit with a secure outcome. To her committed acting skills she adds expressive and well-characterised singing. She is perhaps at her best as Adina returns the contract to Nemorino and exhorts him to stay (Ch.30) showing that furtive tear in her eye.
Villazon’s reprise of his Romanza does not account for the whole of the timing, which is somewhat longer than rivals. It is a whole show that is recorded. During the curtains, Pratico slides off from the stage (Ch.34) and with the conductor remaining in the pit, re-appears at the back of the auditorium singing his last aria as he moves down among the audience (Ch.35) distributing miniature bottles of his potent elixir - Spanish brandy I guess. Villazon tries to get the audience clapping along. It is all appreciated by the audience and gives the show some added zing. It is the kind of night one would be pleased to catch without being the ultimate in singing or staging. If, as with this issue, 16:9 configuration is your preference a more traditional production by Otto Schenk from Vienna in 2006, featuring Villazon alongside Netrebko as Adina, is also available from Virgin. That featuring the other dream couple of the day, Alagna and Gheorghiu, also sets the work in the 1930s. It is available in a production by Brian Dunlop from Lyon and recorded in 2002 conducted by Evelino Pido (Decca).
In this production Daniele Callegari supports his singers and does Donizetti justice. The chorus are first rate and the video director unobtrusive even if I could have done without one or two close-ups of Villazon’s facial contortions. There is one bit of fuzzy focus (Ch.28).
As with these bargain priced Virgin DVDs the supportive leaflet leaves a lot to be desired. There are plenty of credits and a few coloured photographs but no synopsis or chapter listing. Hence I have provided both in my plot summary above. I would have thought these to be a minimum requirement!
-- Robert J. Farr, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
L'Elisir d'Amore by Gaetano Donizetti
Cristina Obregón (Soprano),
Jean-Luc Chaignaud (Baritone),
Rolando Villazón (Tenor),
Maria Bayo (Soprano),
Bruno Praticň (Baritone)
Gran Teatre del Liceu
Written: 1832; Italy
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