Winning cast provides the magic brew in Lyric Opera’s delightful “Elixir”

Sun Jan 24, 2010 at 1:41 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Nicole Cabell as Adina and Giuseppe Filianoti as Nemorino in the Lyric Opera's "Elixir of Love." Photo: Dan Rest
Nicole Cabell as Adina and Giuseppe Filianoti as Nemorino in the Lyric Opera’s “Elixir of Love.” Photo: Dan Rest

L’elisir d’amore has become the go-to opera for companies in the current economically challenged era. With a cast of four singers, small chorus, and inexpensive staging demands, the opera is irresistible for cost-conscious companies focused on the bottom line. Nearly every American opera house, large or small, has presented Donizetti’s comedy last season, is presenting it this season, or will present it next season.

That doesn’t mean The Elixir of Love is an easy work to bring off. The opera requires singers capable of bel canto elegance and agility, personal charm, and a deft comic touch to put across the humor as well as the vocalism.

Fortunately, the Lyric Opera of Chicago delivers the goods in its terrific revival of Donizetti’s comedy, which opened Saturday night. With a winning cast of singers and a delightful production, the Lyric Opera’s Elixir provides the ideal show to chase the winter blues away.

This has been a rich season for tenor debuts at the Lyric, and Giuseppe Filianoti’s is the finest yet. The Italian singer possesses a middle-weight lyric instrument, eminently well suited to the role of the lovelorn bumpkin, Nemorino. Filianoti’s flexibility, ease of production, golden tone and effortless top notes were sensational, as with his honeyed, yearning Quanto e bella and Adina, credemi. For once, Una furtiva lagrima really was the big moment Donizetti intended—Filianoti’s caressing line, refined emotion, and sensitively nuanced dynamics and phrasing earned him a vociferous ovation that nearly stopped the show.

The tenor was also an inspired comic actor. Filianoti avoided the usual wide-eyed peasant tropes for a more self-aware and resourceful hero with several hilarious moments, including his joyous little dance around the magical elixir (actually, Bordeaux).

With such a peripatetic scene-stealer as Filianoti, Nicole Cabell as the headstrong Adina risked seeming a bit bland by comparison. If the California-born soprano didn’t always enter as fully into the comedy as her co-stars, she was an attractive presence and vocally faultless. Cabell’s flexible, high-lying soprano was made for this role, and she sailed through the coloratura passages with ease, her gleaming soprano and high notes cutting easily through the ensembles.

As Belcore, Nemorino’s rival, Gabriele Viviani, also made a superb Lyric debut. The Italian baritone showed as much personality as his tenor compatriot, bringing keen comic flair to the egotistical sergeant—making up for some lack of focus in his lower register—and their Act 2 duet was a high point of the evening.

Alessandro Corbelli seemed to take a while to warm up as the snake-oil traveling salesman Dulcamara, but the veteran singer soon delivered the buffo goods with his ample baritone and witty panache. Angela Mannino was a spirited, if occasionally precious, Giannetta. Donald Nally’s chorus provided vivid singing and proved a well characterized group of villagers, the women especially amusing in their virtual mauling of Nemorino upon discovering he’s inherited a fortune.

The Giulio Chazelletes production continues to work well with Ulise Santicchi’s unit set and costumes in the vein of sturdy tradition. Vincent Liotta’s direction provided a virtual seminar in freshening up a familiar operatic comedy with several clever touches without crossing the line to over-the-top slapstick.

Conductor Bruno Campanella brought just the right balance of lyricism and rhythmic swagger to Donizetti’ s score, with impeccable balances in the lively ensembles.

Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore runs through Feb. 22. Susanna Philips and Frank Lopardo will sing the roles of Adina and Nemorino beginning Feb. 7.  312-332-2244.

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