L’Elisir d’Amore, Metropolitan Opera New York, live cinema relay, October 2012

The Met’s 2012/13 cinema season starts with a romantic comedy, but have no fear, some serious Shakespeare is on the way. In two and four weeks time they will broadcast Verdi’s Otello and Thomas Adès’s The Tempest. In the meantime this was a super L’elisir with Anna Netrebko as a sparkling Adina, and Mariusz Kwiecien as a charmingly forceful Belcore, producing fireworks with their mutual attraction in early Act I.

Adina and Belcore, all images MetOpera/ Ken Howard

That interaction was a fine catalyst for the duet between Adina and Matthew Polenzani as an endearingly sympathetic  Nemorino when she advises him of inconstancy and fickleness in Chieda all’aura lusinghiera (Ask the flattering breeze), and he responds with Chieda al rio (Ask the river). Wonderful stuff, and this production by Bartlett Sher fully brought out the romance between the two of them. It was helped of course by Michael Yeargan’s set designs, reminiscent of those by Oliver Messel, whose designs for the ballet can still be seen today by London audiences. Costumes by Catherine Zuber were of the 1830s when Donizetti wrote this opera, and the top hat for Adina was an attractive feature emphasising her superiority over the other young women.


Nemorino and elixir

Indeed Adina is a highly literate woman, and at the beginning of the opera is found reading to others the tale of Tristan and Isolde. The romance is there right at the start, and Bartlett Sher has taken his cue and allowed the comedy to take a more natural second place. Of course the truly comic figure is the charlatan ‘Doctor’ Dulcamara who produces the elixir of love for Nemorino. He was grandly portrayed by Ambrogio Maestri as a well-fed bullshit artist, whose consumption of spaghetti at the wedding feast was a useful focal point for the camera.  This is in Act II where Matthew Polenzani’s impassioned rendering of Una furtiva lagrima was sung with huge feeling, and brought the house down.

Helped by Anna Netrebko’s playful sexiness, the four principals all did a wonderful job together, aided by fine orchestral support from Maurizio Benini in the orchestra pit. This is what one expects from the Met, and I look forward to Otello in a couple of weeks time. For anyone in London who is keen to see L’elisir on stage, the Royal Opera will give eight performances starting in mid-November.

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