Tuesday 14 April 2015

Donizetti - L’elisir d’amore (Bayerische Staatsoper, 2015 - Webcast)

Gaetano Donizetti - L’elisir d’amore

Bayerische Staastsoper, 2015

Asher Fisch, David Bösch, Ailyn Pérez, Matthew Polenzani, Mario Cassi, Ambrogio Maestri, Evgeniya Sotnikova

Staatsoper.tv - 12 April 2015

L'elisir d'amore is not the most romantic romantic-comedy ever written, nor is the most comic romantic-comedy either, but what it does have that stands in its favour above all else is the delightful exuberance of Donizetti's sparkling score. David Bösch's 2015 production for the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, broadcast live via their web streaming service on 12 April, doesn't do much for either the romance or the comedy, but - particularly under the baton of Asher Fisch - it is definitely Donizetti at his most exuberant.

So, where are we this time? You can take nothing for granted in a production at the Bayerische Staatsoper, except that an opera almost certainly won't be in its original setting, and probably not even in any familiar or naturalistic setting either. And so it is with the post-apocalyptic wasteland of David Bösch's L'elisir d'amore. That hardly sounds like the ideal place for a romantic-comedy - Love is a battlefield? - but perhaps there's no need to look too deeply into the production design or Donizetti's opera for any deep conceptual meaning, other than the need to present it in a bright, dynamic and eye-catching fashion.

And it most certainly is that. There are only one or two big effects, which have great impact, but mostly the staging is kept simple on a single set. It's a desert wasteland on a well lit stage, the inhabitants all brightly dressed, but slightly shabby and looking rather the worse for wear. They look like they could well do with some of Professor Dulcamara's miracle elixir to cure every ill when he rolls up into town not so much a wagon as a huge space-age globe vehicle. Dulcamara's arrival should be an something of a wondrous occasion, and rather than looking like an obvious snake-oil hustler, here he arrives with the kind of entrance that is going to have an impact on the willingly credulous populace.

Impact is what it's all about, and exuberance with it. For L'elisir d'amore to work it ought to sweep you up into its world, and Bösch certainly creates a world to get lost in. It never gets dull, it never gets too silly, but rather creates little moments of wonder and magic, particularly in relation to Nemorino in his idealised love for the cruelly dismissive Adina. Balloons form a (rough) heart in the sky (leading up to Adina's hastily arranged wedding with the soldier Belcore), and there is an amusing scene when the young ladies of the town all chase Nemorino in wedding dresses upon news of him receiving his uncle's inheritance. It all builds nicely towards the big finale, which hits home exactly as it should.

So the romance and the comedy is there, after a fashion, albeit in a slightly off-centre and non-obvious way. The soldiers in this Elisir, for example, are desert rats, and the magic potion given to Nemorino comes in a fire-extinguisher looking like an IED, which is I suppose the impact it inadvertently has, but I don't think there's any point in reading much more into it than that. This is a fantasy land setting with real-world pointers, making it somewhat familiar but also poking fun at the absurdity of it all. And absurdity is what we get, particularly in the brilliant comic turn here from Matthew Polenzani as Nemorino.

Polenzani is the stand-out performer here, although the rest of the cast are all perfectly complementary to the tone of the production and in terms of vocal delivery, which in this work is quite challenging. Polenzani is particularly good in this repertoire and sings Nemorino wonderfully, giving him real character, throwing himself wholly into the proceedings with... well, yes... exuberance. He's a lively figure here, and it's just what the work and the production needs. Ailyn Pérez isn't quite as charismatic and the singing challenges of Adina stretch her on one or two occasions, but it's still an impressive performance. Mario Cassi's Belcore is rather underplayed, reflecting the soldier's rough lack of personality. Ambrogio Maestri's Dulcamara isn't overplayed either, and there's a nice turn from Evgeniya Sotnikova as Gianetta.

Nemorino is at the heart of this production, and Matthew Polenzani's entertaining performance carries it off, but it's conductor Asher Fisch who really leads the dance. This is a warm, vigorous and, I'll say it again, exuberant account of Donizetti's score from the Bayerisches Staastorchester, supporting the singers, getting right behind them, finding all the dynamic that is required here, getting it across with a flourish at the big moments, and taking us out with a real bang at the finale. Terrific.

May is a ballet month in Munich with a live broadcast of Der gelbe Klang / Spiral Pass / Konzert für Violine und Orchester. The next opera broadcast from the Bayerische Staastsoper is Alban Berg's LULU, conducted by Kirill Petrenko and directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov with Marlis Petersen in the title role. It will be streamed live for free from the Staatsoper.tv site on 6 June.

Links: Staatsoper.tv