Gaetano Donizetti - L'Elisir d'amore
Opernhaus Zürich, 2015
Giacomo Sagripanti, Grischa Asagaroff, Eleonora Buratto, Pavol Breslik, Massimo Cavalletti, Lucio Gallo, Hamida Kristoffersen, Jan Pezzali
Zurich - 5 July 2015
You don't go to see Donizetti's L'Elisir d'amore expecting it to throw up many new ideas or reveal any new musical qualities. Even as a comedy it has a fairly limited premise that is unlikely to inspire any real gales of laughter. No, you go to see L'Elisir d'amore with the hope of seeing some wonderful singing in a gentle feelgood comedy, and that's exactly what you get with the Zurich production directed by Grischa Asagaroff.
There was certainly nothing as optimistic or as threatening attempted as the recent Bavarian State Opera production. Asagaroff's production doesn't intend to upset or confuse anyone with some abstract futuristic set like Munich. This one is set firmly in storybook land; a colourful pop-up fairy tale storybook at that. The set is eye-catching and bright, catching the mood of the opera itself. It opens with a colourful forest scene (it's been that long since I've seen a L'Elisir d'Amore that wasn't updated, that I'd forgotten where it originally starts!), with little cardboard boars scuttling across the stage, and it subtly draws the audience further into its world scene by scene.
The light-hearted feelgood factor is firmly established by the bright set and it's mirrored in the musical performance under the direction of Giacomo Sagripanti. This is light buoyant Donizetti that achieves a good balance between smooth sophistication and a more livelier verve that spins the work along from one scene to the next. The humour starts to wane a little late in the second act, losing its momentum and starting to slump a little, but Donizetti always has a new little trick to speed it up again, a new challenge for each of the singers to rise to, an ensemble piece to pick your way through, all with an unerring ability to spark it up with another memorable melody.
Between Giacomo Sagripanti and Grischa Asagaroff's complementary working of the Donizetti's sparkling score with a bright and light-hearted stage presentation, everything in L'Elisir d'amore is guaranteed to move along well, if a little predictably and, ultimately as is the case here, rather forgettably. The work really needs a little more personality and interpretation to rise beyond that and although we had a very strong cast here - it's hard to imagine one better when you're looking at Pavol Breslik playing Nemorino and Diana Damrau playing Adina - it's still not quite enough to lift the work or give it any additional verve or excitement.
Unfortunately it didn't quite pan out entirely as planned, Diana Damrau being forced to withdraw from the final afternoon performance of the opera's summer Festspiele Zürich run due to illness. Making the disappointing announcement, the attendant assured us however that we had a very good replacement in Eleonora Buratto who had stepped in at the last moment (although she is scheduled to take over the role in future productions). She wasn't wrong. From the very first notes, it was obvious that Buratto was more than capable for the exceptional singing challenges of the role, if a little unsteady in getting up to one or two of the more difficult high notes, and she gave a fine crowd-pleasing performance.
It was Pavol Breslik however who really brought that much needed life and personality to the production. His singing was delightful and flawless, as it always is and as you would expect it to be, with that familiar sweet lyrical tone. He really made the extra effort to bring a little more of a comic touch to the work - giving an air of light spontaneity that suits the nature of Nemorino, uncertain of himself, willing to try anything that will win the heart of Adina. It's undoubtedly well-rehearsed, but there's a skill in making it look this effortless and spontaneous. Lucio Gallo's Dulcamara was surprisingly low-key, Gallo not always sounding entirely steady in his singing. Massimo Cavalletti give us a rather more sympathetic Belcore than usual, playing it more for laughs, and getting them.
Links: Festspiele Zürich