POSTED ON APRIL 22, 2009:
Verve and Imagination
Tulsa Opera closes the season with the romantic comedy L'Elisir d'Amore
Date Night. Tulsa Opera likes to conclude each season on a light note, said Artistic Director Kostis Protopapas, and he chose Elixir because it is "one of opera's trademark romantic comedies" and because it has not been performed by the company since 1965.
There's really nothing funny about a poor, naïve fellow in love with a beautiful woman who, rather than return his affection or, at the very least, let him down gently, torments him mercilessly.
But, throw into the mix a "magic love potion," which is actually wine and equips the man with previously unknown bravery and confidence and leads to a bevy of misunderstandings and repercussive circumstances, and, well, you've got a comedy on your hands.
Such is the story of Nemorino and Adina, principal characters of Gaetano Donzinett's L'elisir d'amore (The Elixir of Love), Tulsa Opera's season finale, opening this weekend.
Tulsa Opera likes to conclude each season on a light note, said Artistic Director Kostis Protopapas, and he chose Elixir because it is "one of opera's trademark romantic comedies" and because it has not been performed by the company since 1965.
The opera is written in bel canto style, which means "beautiful singing," and "there is going to be plenty of that: arias, ensembles, choruses both beautiful and virtuosic," said Protopapas.
"The cast sings beautifully, but they also have great comedic sense. The set is airy and evocative of the Italian countryside, and the costumes are delightfully colorful," he added.
Protopapas cast lyric tenor Gregory Schmidt as Nemorino, the shy peasant, and coloratura soprano Mari Moriya as Adina, a beautiful landowner who is also a strong, stubborn woman. Neither of the singers has performed Elixir before, but both have risen to the challenge. And it has been a challenge, they said.
In comedy, timing is everything.
"Every glance, gesture, every time you drop something on the floor, everything has to be perfectly timed," said Schmidt. "Doing a comedy is way more work than doing something like La Traviata, which has its own challenges, but it's all about music and emotion. This is more physically demanding."
With the physical comedy, Schmidt said it's been a challenge to discover how far he can push himself and still have the breath he needs to sing the music.
Moriya said she's had to hone her acting skills to play Adina, and she agreed with Schmidt that the timing has been challenging.
"It's usually easier to get sympathy from the audience in a tragedy," she said, "because the music is very dramatic. In a comedy, it takes more effort to conquer the audience's hearts."
Both singers said they enjoy Elixir because, unlike many operas local audiences are used to, no one dies. It is a line that came up in every interview.
In L'elisir d'amore, Nemorino is in love with Adina, but he is afraid to let his affection show because he doesn't believe she could return his love. He also fears she may love Sergeant Belcore (Christopher Feigum), who appears with his regiment to swoop her off her feet.
Also arriving in their small Italian village is Dulcamara (Terry Hodges), a traveling salesman offering a love potion, which is actually, unbeknownst to Nemorino, simply wine. He buys it and is immediately taken by its effect. He suddenly possesses the confidence and self-assurance to approach Adina, who teases him mercilessly. And, she agrees to Belcore's sudden marriage proposal.
Nemorino is heartbroken and, in act two, devastated that he has lost his love. Desperate for more potion, he joins Belcore's regiment in exchange for cash. Belcore sends his rival off to war and, while he is away, Nemorino's rich uncle dies, leaving him a large inheritance, which earns him the attention of a gaggle of women in the town.
Adina learns through Dulcamara, who doesn't realize she is the object of his affection, that Nemorino's love for her is sincere and that she is the reason he has spent all of him money on love potion.
In the end, not only does no one die, but the couple lives happily ever after.
While the role of Nemorino is quite different than that of the regal, masculine one Schmidt is used to playing, he said he has enjoyed getting into character.
"It's been an interesting challenge," Schmidt said. "How do I communicate the physicality of a character who, inside, is strong but shy and lacks confidence? He's not an idiot, he's just a naïve, simple guy."
"I like that he's completely without guile, without artifice," Schmidt continued. "It's not in him to scheme or plot or twist words around. It's been mostly fun in the challenge of projecting the outward weak parts of his character while also keeping track of his internal strengths, which are manifested during the course of the opera."
Protopapas has enlisted friend and colleague Joseph Mechavich to direct the opera, because, he said, "It is good for an opera company to have a new face on the podium every once in a while.
"From working with Joe in Santa Fe, I knew that singers love working with him. He is very musical and has a very warm personality, so I knew that he would be a great match with our cast and company," said Protopapas. "He has conducted Elixir several times and conducts it with great verve and imagination."
"The opera has distinct moments of sheer comedy, but there are some poignant touches as well," said Mechavich.
Mechavich said that Elixir, like any opera, is different every time it is performed, depending on the cast of singers hired to perform it.
"Everything in the bel canto style depends on the expressive text of the work," he said. "Every singer will deliver it in a different way, depending on what kind of voice he or she has."
He spoke, too, of timing, not only comedic timing, but the coordination of the musicians in the pit and the singers on stage, for which he is responsible.
"It's an exciting challenge to coordinate the pit and the stage to achieve these expressive moments," he said.
The pit consists of 41 musicians.
The opera itself is short, played out in only two acts and in less than two hours. It is fast-paced, Mechavich remarked, almost through-composed.
Not only is it a great opera for beginning opera-goers, but TO is also marketing it as a great date-night show. It opens Saturday, April 25 at 7:30pm in the Chapman Music Hall of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, 110 E. Second St., and continues next weekend, May 1 and 3. Tickets are $20-$95 and available at www.tulsapac.com.
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