And your blogger does her best to appreciate the musical assets of Joseph Calleja's Nemorino under some trying conditions.
Donizetti, L'elisir d'amore. Bayerische Staatsoper, 1/3/2011. Production by David Bösch, conducted by Justin Brown with Joseph Calleja (Nemorino), Laura Tatelescu (Adina), Nikolay Borchev (Belcore), Alessandro Corbelli (Dulcamara), Tara Erraught (Giannetta)
|Adina and Belcore.|
Note that all photos show premiere cast, not the cast I saw.
Dulcamara arrives in a gigantic spaceship/something that glows, shoots sparks, lets off smoke, and has twirly bits sticking out all over the place (see top of post). In the words of the program, he comes as a god to the village, one bringing the dream of consumerism (I love German programs! this one also indulges in a close reading of the gondola girl song!). The machine's approach was the first time I ever found the excitement of the chorus greeting Dulcamara to be merited. The elixir itself comes in a giant tank with a hose of the sort you use to spray insecticide. The production is full of details like this, and confetti, and the treatment of Giannetta, but it balances this silly stuff with close attention to the protagonists and the darkness of the setting itself. The desolate atmosphere adds surprising poignancy: these people are really struggling to find happiness under difficult circumstances. Trust the Germans to make L'elisir d'amore depressing, I know. But I found it touching.
As Nemorino, Joseph Calleja (not pictured) sang with effortless sweetness and his instantly recognizable timbre, a light, bright lyric tenor with a fast and narrow vibrato. It sounds lovely and he knows how to sing with style and feeling, but I found his Nemorino underplayed and not integrated into the production. He was sympathetic, straightforward, and I kind of like a Nemorino who has two brain cells to rub together, but this production seems to demand someone with more personality and presence onstage. The "Una furtive lagrima" was the most beautiful of my recent hearings, though not the most intense. One of the most famed moments of this production in its original iteration was Nemorino singing the aria from halfway up the set's lamppost, but Calleja did not do this at this performance. I didn't mind, and his release of a bunch of balloons into the flies during the final bars was a nice touch.
There must be something on the cover of the Elisir d'amore orchestral score that reads "This Score May Only Be Conducted Very, Very Poorly." This was the worst-conducted performance I have heard since Elisir in Vienna in October. The orchestra sounded heavy and uncoordinated, and stage/pit relations were hostile. In the arias, the conductor more or less followed the singers, but ensembles proved a trial. Tempo changes were nail-biters. While star conducting isn't exactly necessary for a solid Elisir, something this bad always gets in the way.
December 21, I saw Otto Schenk’s Wiener Staatsoper production of this opera. Both it and this were repertory performances with non-premiere casts and showed signs of limited rehearsal. Schenk’s production emphasizes the preciousness of the story, making both protagonists childish, the peasants very tidy and cute, and the events always light. Bösch’s production has wildly creative visuals that interpret the story with much greater complexity, and the production has a whole featured a much more interesting mix of darkness and comedy. And the characters, even in minimally rehearsed form, seemed to grow a lot more. I found it a much more involving and emotional experience. Given the choice I’d pick Bösch’s fun-house in a second.
Photos copyright Bayerische Staatsoper.