Anna Netrebko as Adina and Matthew Polenzani as Nemorino in Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore.”
Taken at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on September 11, 2012. (Photo : Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
This review is for the October 5 performance.
I was in attendance for the dress rehearsal of this same production and some of my initial reactions are written here. However, in a rehearsal, one limits one's expectations and diffuses the reactions because it is still all hypothetical at that point.
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But after watching the actual performance last night, I do not know if I was overzealous in my praise of the production. To be clear, the sets are all handsome and this is an extremely traditional production to say the least. Act one is by far the better looking of the two acts and surely where the finer detail was placed. Act 2 looks splendid for the most part, but seems a tad bit lazier and to a certain extent questions logic. Would anyone, even a peasant, celebrate a wedding in a barn where the smell of the horses and chickens would likely make it intolerable to eat chicken (which the actors did)? Just a strange occurrence that came to me as I watched Act 2 last night. The costumes are solid, but Adina's top hat is a bit on the nose as a symbol.
An interesting aspect of this production is how director Bartlett Sher overdoes it at some points in attempts to make major points or hints and then simply seems uninterested in the action at others. It goes to show what can happen when someone wants to be bold and still be safe at the same time. In videos, Sher talked about his elaborate ideas of the Risorgimento and how he planned to incorporate them in this production. When he did his "Les Contes D'Hoffman" production a few years ago, he spoke of incorporating the worlds of Fellini and Kafka, but no one would have made that connection without Sher explicitly mentioning it. The same goes here. Yes we see Dulcamara's strange looking men (one has orange sunglasses and looks like a hippie) handing out the guns to the town's people, but that curious story element is never further developed. It is a hint that while adding color to the proceedings comes off as a major plot hole at the end of the opera.
Plot holes wind up being in abundance. Dulcamara tries to shoot Belcore in what seems like a follow up to the arming of the town's people, but then stops himself and never tries it again. What was an interesting take on the character falls flat because Sher simply abandons this added element. Nemorino enters the stage during the Prelude of Act One writing something in his diary. You would think that if the diary is going to be introduced with the main character, then it will surely be a major part of the story right? Adina steals it half way through the act and then we never see it again. Why couldn't he show Adina reading it at some point? It has been indicated that she reads, so why not take advantage of this motif and further it?
This Elisir saw a great deal of "parking and barking (standing and sing)" which was a result of a lack of interest or ideas from the director. For all the talk of more "theatrical" experiences in which the action is non-stopped, this felt a whole lot like opera of old where it was perfectly acceptable for singers to stand around and let the singing do the work. There are times where the music does all the work for you (Nemorino's "Furtiva Lagrima") but the duet with Adina and Dulcamara or the Dulcamara aria are surely places where there is tons of room for constant action on stage. More telling was how often and when audiences were laughing. To be honest, Sher got a ton of applause after Adina declares her love and kisses Nemorino and I congratulate him for making it a show stopping moment like none other. But the rest of the time, we heard laughing that was not necessarily the reaction to what was going on on stage (there were scarcely those moments) but because of what was being said in the text. Sher certainly toned down the violence from the dress rehearsal but it was difficult to see the work in a jovial manner when Nemorino is getting beat up by soldiers and Adina decides to start dancing and prancing with her buddies despite her "beloved" being beaten to a pulp.
On these nights where the production does not do it for me, I usually have the singers to thank for getting the job done. But even they were not always into it.
Anna Netrebko is the poster woman of the opera world. And for a strong reason. Last year she carried a rather bland Anna Bolena with a transcendental portrayal and then topped that with a complex performance as Manon. But Adina did not seem to suit her in any way. She is easily in the upper echelon as far as actors goes and on this night, not even that was working for her as she did a whole lot of standing around. Her usually charismatic persona was absent and one had to question whether she was sick. Her singing was unsteady to start and while she was brilliant during her two duets with Matthew Polenzani's Nemorino, she sang an entire passage of the pezzo concertato flat. She ate some chicken in the following act and then had trouble during her final aria where she lost control of two notes and forced a coloratura passage in which she says "T'amo" to Nemorino. It was an unimpressive night from someone who is always at her best. My take is that this repertoire is no longer her strong suit as her voice has gained in weight and the flexibility of this role is simply not there for her anymore. This is her last Adina and I look forward to hear her back to her usual superstar self next year in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin.
Matthew Polenzani had the most consistent performance of the night. His voice was versatile throughout the evening as he gave Nemorino a duality of being a strong and weak man simultaneously. During one moment in his duet with Dulcamara, he is told to be quiet and Polenzani instantly gave the note a subito piano that was not only an effective vocal moment but also one of the few comic ones. Polenzani was hilarious during the trio with Belcore and Adina as he mocked them and slapped her rear. Act 2 saw him sing the famous "Furtiva Lagrima" with such tenderness and suavity of line that it was easily the highlight of a night that had few. His pianissimo at the end of the aria in which Nemorino sings "Si puo morir d'amor" was the most transcendent musical moment of the evening.
Mariusz Kwiecien also had a solid performance as Belcore. He brought vocal strength and charisma to the part, but Belcore was at times too aggressive and hotheaded to elicit any sympathy. Having seen Kwiecien do this role last spring, I know he has more charm to add to this role, so I put it on Sher for the confused direction of the character.
Ambrosio Maestri has strong vocal skills and does a magnificent job of getting through the opera's vocal difficulties. But his performance was a bit lacking in energy or the charisma one would desire from a Dulcamara. He was perhaps the guiltiest of parking and barking throughout the opera. But knowing Maestri's vigorous Falstaff, I can't help but feel that someone else is to blame for his lack of energy.
Conductor Maurizio Benini brought refreshing propulsion to the score as his tempi tended toward swifter and lighter. The pezzo concertato has a gorgeous crescendo climax that includes all the singers on stage and Benini was able to accentuate the orchestra's rhythmic accompaniment to create a magical effect during one of the opera's musical touchstones. He did accommodate to the singers when necessary but his lively interpretation of the score lifted the performance during many instances.
If we strip the production of any pretensions that Sher stated in his videos and take it as it is, it is a solid one that could be a Met staple for years to come. I can see this production seeing better days with a more focused stage director who is more concerned with the characters on stage than any half-baked ideas that this current run hints at but never fully embraces.
Other Opera Reviews By David Salazar