he IU Opera Theater’s production of Gaetano Donizetti’s "The Elixir of Love," "L’elisir d’Amore" is the perfect little comic opera for a summer evening. The music is lovely, the characters are interesting and attractive, and the plot is simple enough for opera, but with twist or two.
The overture offered some lovely bird like fluting from Sofia Hailu and Jin Hee Oh and the scene opens as a colorfully costumed chorus of farm workers relax from their labors. The local land owner, Adina sung Saturday by Betsy Uschkrat, laughs as she reads about the love potion that Tristan used on Isolde. Off to one side, the only one who doesn’t seem to be having a good time, is her too-shy lover, Nemorino, tenor Nicholas Nesbitt.
Suddenly a detachment of soldiers arrives taking positions throughout the scene with raised rifles. I never did figure this moment out, perhaps it was some sort of critique of homeland security in the early 19th century. The military drifts off and eventually return in a more formal martial formation with their leader, the Sergeant Belcore, Jeremiah Johnson in the lead. Johnson with his bluff baritone was quite perfect as the supremely confident pompous non-com.
The sad wooer, Nemorino proposes to the flighty Adina, but she’s playing the capricious one and spurns him. Just in the nick, one of the great comic characters in opera, the quack Dr. Dulcamara, the winsome Alan Dunbar, and his traveling entourage arrive. The good doctor is a superb pitchman. He’s got a potion that will cure, fix and repair any disease or discomfort known or suspected by man or woman. It’s not exactly the old "one for a woman, two for a man and three for a horse," but you get the idea.
Nemorino cites the story of Tristan and Isolde’s potion to the good doctor and sure enough, Yes, he seems to have just a bit of that same stuff. Palmed off with a bottle of cheap Bordeaux, the now confident Nemorino does a little spurning of his own and the superior Adina is miffed. Her solution to get back at Nemorino is to agree to marry the head man of the military, Sergeant Belcore. It’s a nice juncture in the plot and Donizetti and his librettist take the opportunity to end the first quickly moving act.
As the second act begins the wedding festivities are in progress with some lovely singing by the women of the chorus led by Adina’s friend Gianetta, Heather Youngquist, but Nemorino isn’t around and Adina is delaying things, because she wants to have him there for her revenge on his potion inspired indifference. Meanwhile, the definitely not indifferent Nemorino is enlisting in the army to get the bonus money for a second bottle of Dr. Dulcamara’s special. News has come to the village that the previously penniless Nemorino’s rich uncle has died leaving Nemorino one of the richest men in the area and the tenor is now surrounded by the village beauties and dragged off, with only parts of his clothing remaining, to a dance.
Dr. Dulcamara sees the change in the tenor’s fortunes and not knowing about the inheritance, is momentarily convinced that he’s really got a genuine love potion. His momentary bafflement can be one of the funniest single moments in all of comic opera.
In d delightfully happy ending, Adina comes to realize that she does in fact love Nemorino, buys him out of the army and reject the amorous Sergeant. Nemorino and Adina are overjoyed, the Sergeant takes rejection in good spirit as he heads off to a new town and new adventures and Dr. Dulcamara now touts his remedy as not only a cure all for bodily illness and love sickness but a concoction that makes a person rich as well.
Throughout the evening guest conductor Jorge Carciofolo led with assurance. My only complaints were a couple of what seemed too slow tempos in the opening scenes. Guest Stage Director Andrew Sinclair had an almost painterly hand in the direction. Each singer had a worked out part and I could look anywhere on stage and find interesting activity. I actually found it at times a little distracting and wished for a bit more focus, but it made for a lively and very engaged chorus.
All the leads did a fine job with Betsy Uschkrat gracefully moving from the stiffly cool Adina of the first act to the woman in love in the second. Nicholas Nesbitt was an attractive Nemorino with an always in control voice.
The IU Opera Theater’s production of Donizetti’s "L’elisir d’Amore" has final performances this Friday and Saturday at eight in the Musical Arts Center
You can an interview with Betsy Uschkrat and Jacqueline Brecheen on our Arts Interviews page .