BWW Review: ELISIR's Latest Duo Charms the Pants Off Met Audience
There have been starrier casts heading up Donizetti's L'ELISIR D'AMORE at the Met--put the opera's name in the NY Times search engine and the first one that shows up is the debut of the famed tenor Tito Schipa in 1932, with bass Ezio Pinza as the quack snake-oil salesman Dulcamara. But this year's principals, soprano Pretty Yende and tenor Matthew Polenzani, gave more than enough pleasure (and then some) to send the audience out cheering.
The decidedly old-fashioned production by Bart Sher and his production team (Michael Yeargan's set in particular) wouldn't have seemed out of place in 1932, so it was up to the singers--and the lively performance by the Met orchestra under newcomer Domingo Hinodoyan--to make this production work...and work it did.
Yende has made quite a name for herself in the bel canto repertoire at the Met, since she stepped into the spotlight just about five years ago in Rossini's LE COMTE ORY opposite Juan Diego Florez--learning the role of Adele on a week's notice--and raised the roof. She was a game Rosina in last year's BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA and an on-the-brink Elvira in Bellini's I PURITANI (subbing in for an indisposed Diana Damrau).
This time around, she not only brought her brilliant coloratura--high notes, runs and trills and all--to Adina, the wealthy landowner, but injected more humanity than is often heard in the role of the country maid. Yes, she starts off having eyes only for the dashing soldier, Sgt Belcore (a bluff but appealing Davide Luciano) rather than the country bumpkin Nemorino, elegantly and sweetly sung by tenor Polenzani, but when the latter's "magic potion" (that "elisir" of the title) starts having its effect, it doesn't feel so much a mood swing but a true awakening.
Is there a more reliable--and chameleon-like--tenor at the Met than Polenzani, whether in TALES OF HOFFMAN, ROBERTO DEVEREUX or his current assignment? Unlike certain other tenors who only inject different versions of themselves into every role and take any opportunity to ham it up (ELISIR is an easy place for that to happen), Polenzani is a wonderful artist who actually thinks about creating a character. His Nemorino (from the Latin for "little nobody") is lovable and charming, without ever taking a misstep on the road to winning what seems like the impossible girl of his dreams. His rendition of the opera's most famous aria, "Una furtive lagrima," didn't resort to bathos for effect, but dug deep into his heart.
Bass Ildebrando D'Arcangelo (Dr. Dulcamara) offered an amusing take on the merchant of fake love potions, with his rapid-fire, patter-filled portrayal (including his high-spirited introductory aria, "Udite, udite, o rustici") offering more voice and less shtick than often heard in the role. Soprano Ashley Emerson did a fine job as Adina's pal, Giannetta, with an appealing take on her Act II aria. The Met chorus under Donald Palumbo was in top form.