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September 25, 2012 5:32 pm
When the Met last staged L’elisir d’amore, the opera got submerged in cloying circus-pastel décors by Beni Montresor. Still the kitsch was often salvaged by fine singers, starting with Kathleen Battle and Luciano Pavarotti in 1991 and ending with Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Flórez last March. The replacement version, which opened the season amid much brouhaha on Monday, is a dramatic mishmash, and the singing is uneven.
Donizetti labelled his wondrous work melodramma giocoso, but Bartlett Sher, the Broadway-oriented director, pays more attention to the noun than the adjective. This is the least jocular, least amusing Elisir in memory.
An annotation in the $20 programme booklet stretches hard – too hard – to connect the production to the sociopolitical realm of the Risorgimento. Despite occasional gags, Sher imposes verismo pathos, even violence, on the basic buffa impulses. Michael Yeargan’s canvas stage-within-a-stage provides a pretty frame, that’s all. Catherine Zuber’s mostly elegant costumes contradict the bucolic ambience, and, for some reason, give the choral soldiers helmets that resemble foot-stools.
All this might have seemed relatively inconsequential had the music-making been sensitive and stylish. Unfortunately, the conductor, Maurizio Benini, stressed power and speed over grace, and most of the cast resorted to belt canto. The qualifier is necessary because of the tenor Matthew Polenzani, who sang the lovesick Nemorino with artful delicacy that reached a climax, in various shades of pianissimo, with “Una furtiva lagrima”.
The obvious star attraction, amply cheered, was Anna Netrebko as Adina. Hyperactive and forcefully glamourous, she made the soubrette heroine a tomboy who – ask not why – sports a top hat and models a gentleman’s jacket. Her lovely soprano has gained some weight recently, as has her body, and she seems to have outgrown this sort of sweet-lyric assignment. Despite affecting moments, one hoped in vain for more dynamic variety and for truer pitch in rising climaxes.
Mariusz Kwiecien, the only holdover from last season, was the slick Sergeant Belcore. Ambrogio Maestri, more baritone than bass, was the physically and vocally rotund Doctor Dulcamara.
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