Don Pasquale and L'elisir d'amore: A Tale of Two Tenors
|Grigolo and Kurzak, photo @ Marty Sohl|
The Met's current production of L'elisir d'amore has handsome old fashioned painted backdrops by Michael Yeargan and "traditional" costumes by Catherine Zuber but is a remarkably dour, humorless take on Donizetti's timeless comedy. Bartlett Sher apparently decided that Nemorino was not the lovable, illiterate sap that was described so vividly in Felice Romani's libretto, but a brooding poet and a mean drunk. Belcore's army is actually violent and scary -- they physically shove and manhandle Nemorino and sexually harass the girls. I mean, it's a comedy. The army shouldn't be giving off an ISIS vibe.
Enrique Mazzola led a lively and coordinated account of the score from the pit. Alessandro Corbelli (Dulcamara) is a living treasure -- an old fashioned opera buffa baritone who is completely idiomatic in both the patter arias and in pulling off the tried and true schtick. Ying Fang was lovely as Giannetta. But otherwise the performance made you scratch your head. Adam Plachetka (Belcore) has a handsome voice but the directions in this opera make Belcore and his army, as I said, more ISIS than soldiers looking to "have fun off-duty time." Aleksandra Kurzak (Adina) is an engaging actress and a musical singer. However, the upper register of her voice seems to have receded to the point where any sustained tones come out as white, off-pitch squeaks.
Vittorio Grigolo as Nemorino gave a performance equal parts endearing, bewildering and narcissistic. You can certainly admire the energy he brings to the otherwise joyless production -- in the first act he played with some members of the children's chorus and juggled an orange. But his entire performance seemed directed towards an imaginary member of the audience sitting in the first row (let's call her "Vittoria"). "Quanta è bella" was sung towards "Vittoria" instead of Adina. Throughout the performance he gazed adoringly at "Vittoria." He undressed her with his eyes. Even in the love duet that ends the opera when he finally kissed onstage Adina his gaze was directed at "Vittoria", and when the blocking called for him to fall onto the ground in a tight embrace with Adina he waved at "Vittoria." During the curtain calls he reached for his heart and flung it at "Vittoria." Lucky woman.
Grigolo's musical interpretation was also bizarre. On paper his voice is a perfect fit for Nemorino. But he has a bumpy, erratic sense of musical line. He tends to lunge at notes randomly with almost no sense of legato -- at times his phrasing resembled someone who hasn't yet mastered a language and keeps putting the em-PHA-sis on the wrong sy-LLA-ble. "Una furtiva lagrima" was sung almost completely as a vocal display. There was no sense of Nemorino's inner life. At the end Vittorio gazed adoringly at "Vittoria" then when the applause died down lifted his head upwards towards the heavens to garner more applause. Grigolo is a gifted singer but this role brought out his most self-indulgent tendencies.
In contrast, the next night's performance of Don Pasquale was one of the HAPPIEST performances I've ever attended. The audience at the end of the night refused to leave the auditorium until the cast came out for bow after bow. Everyone was in better vocal shape than opening night, particularly Eleanora Buratto, who not only displayed a freer upper register and more articulated coloratura, but a real comic spirit that was missing in her debut night.
|Camarena, photo @Eva Chien|
I teach in an inner city school where a common saying among the students is "Miss you're doing too much." In many Met productions I've attended this year I often got that feeling. Meticulously rehearsed and promoted performances that were also dull and uninspired, like the Lulu that was more art exhibit than opera. Don Pasquale proved that the formula for a successful performance is really just great singing and engaged performers. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it?
|Last night's curtain call|