BWW Reviews: ALO Introduced Austin to Up-And-Coming Opera Stars with ELIXIR OF LOVE

BWW Reviews: ALO Introduced Austin to Up-And-Coming Opera Stars with ELIXIR OF LOVE
Sara Gartland as Adina and Rene Barbera as Nemorino.
Photo by Mark Matson

Poor, plain, easily ignored Nemorino. He's so in love with the beautiful Adina, but she doesn't love him back. Ultimately, lovesick Nemorino is forced to buy a love potion from a charlatan to win Adina's heart. While that may be the plot of Gaetano Donizetti's comic opera, it doesn't take a potion to fall for Austin Lyric Opera's superb production of The Elixir of Love. Every element of this superbly crafted production will win the love and adoration of the audience. Opera lovers will be entranced, and opera newcomers will be enchanted. If you are an opera novice or are under the impression that you hate opera, give this one a chance. You'll be surprised at how easy it is to follow this simple, charming, humorous show, and you'll be glad to know that given its 2 hour and 30 minute running time, it's a relatively brief affair.

As should be expected from any show by Austin Lyric Opera, the production values here are top notch. The set by Constantinos Kritikos evokes a romantic Italian village, as do Susan Memmott Allred's detailed and meticulously designed costumes. Director Joseph Evans uses plenty of physical shtick to highlight the humor of the piece, and as always, the orchestra (conducted by Richard Buckley, has a powerful, lush, and recording-quality sound.

But the biggest asset of the production is the cast. Sara Ann Mitchell is delightful as Gianetta, the town's gold-digging gossip. She gives the character a playful, mischievous flare, and her voice is fantastic. As Dr. Dulcamara, the traveling swindler, Peter Strummer is a crowd-pleaser. It's tough to decide if his greatest strengths lie in his singing or his acting. His bass voice fills Dell Hall, and he's more than capable at articulating some dizzyingly fast lyrics. As an actor, his take on the role of the conman is devilishly fun.

Rounding out the cast are Kelly Markgraf, Sara Gartland, and Rene Barbera, all of whom make their Austin Lyric Opera debut with this production. Markgraf is sensationally funny as Sergeant Belcore. His booming baritone voice will give you goosebumps, but the physicality of his performance is even more memorable. Tall and handsome, Markgraf has the look of a soldier who is not only cocky enough to propose to Adina upon their first meeting but arrogant enough to expect an immediate answer. Having his men follow him around with mirrors and breath sprays also allows Markgraff several opportunities to show off his comedic gifts.

And then there are Gartland and Barbera. I could write all of my thoughts on how sensational they are, but that would take several days, and sadly the production will close before I'd be able to finish. So I'll say this. Gartland and Barbera are stars. You just don't know about them yet. The beautiful Gartland is a joy to watch as Adina. There's a power and intensity behind her soprano voice at times and a gentility to it at others. Her versatility as a performer extends to her acting abilities. Her Adina is playful, independent, and sometimes wilful, but always believable. And as Nemorino, Barbera is a revelation. The thirty year old performer makes everything look so easy, and his voice is so electric that I was surprised that his aria "Una furtiva lagrima" did not receive a standing ovation at the performance I attended. Barbera gives the role his all. Whether the moment calls for him to be a lovesick puppy or a joyous drunk, every choice Barbera makes is perfect.

Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.

THE ELIXIR OF LOVE, produced by Austin Lyric Opera, plays The Long Center for the Performing Arts at 701 W Riverside Dr, Austin, 78704 now thru Sunday, May 4th. Performances are Saturday, May 3rd at 7:30pm and Sunday, May 4th at 3pm. Tickets are $24-$200. For tickets and information, please visit www.austinlyricopera.org


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Jeff Davis Jeff Davis is a graduate of the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television where he obtained his Bachelor's Degree in Theater with an emphasis in Directing.