Marvellously Entertaining L’elisir d’amore at Dresden’s Semper Oper

GermanyGermany  Donizetti: L’elisir d’amore(1832): Sächsischer Staatsopernchor, Staatskapelle Dresden/Riccardo Frizza (conductor), Semper Opera House, Dresden, Germany 21.5.2012 (MC)


Nemorino: Giorgio Berrugi
Adina: Nadja Mchantaf
Doctor Dulcamara: Marco Vinco
Belcore: Christopher Magiera
Gianetta: Romy Petrick


Production team:

Director: Michael Schulz
Stage designer: Dirk Becker
Costume design: Renée Listerdal
Lighting design: Fabio Antoci
Chorus: Pablo Assante, Christof Bauer
Dramatisation: Sophie Becker


Dresden Opera L'elisir d'amore. Photo Credit: Matthias Creutziger

Michael Schulz’s new production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore conducted by Riccardo Frizza was only premièred at the Semper Opera House, Dresden a few weeks ago on the 28th April 2012. The cast for this marvellously entertaining staging on the 21st May was the same as on the opening night.

This heart-warming love story eith its ridiculous plot is pure escapism. We have the penniless lovestruck young villager Nemorino who spends his last cent buying a magic potion off the charlatan travelling salesman/medicine man Doctor Dulcamara in the hope that it will improve his chances of marrying Adina, a wealthy farmer’s daughter.

Dirk Becker’s stage design is highly effective. Without access to any English translations of the production details to me it looked as if the traditional setting of a village in the Basque Country at the end of the eighteenth century had been swapped for a large warehouse, a cross between a dance hall or a coffee bar, which could have been in a large town anywhere in the USA or maybe Europe. A metal staircase à la

West Side Story, ran from the parquet floored stage to high up the left hand wall of the set. There was what looked like a vending machine – or maybe a juke box – at the rear wall and an upright piano (used for some of the recitatives) on the left wall of the set, and at the front right of the stage was a pile of five single mattresses. From time to time a small ridge tent that had magical powers was placed on the floor; at other times a long trestle table was used for feasting. When Doctor Dulcamara burst on the scene to lots of dry ice it looked as if he had arrived in an ark with a drawbridge.

The style of clothes by designer Renée Listerdal came across as a brilliantly colourful and eclectic mix of both high school dance wear from the 1950s and roaring twenties while the troop of soldiers looked las if they had come from the Napoleonic wars.

The male lead Nemorino, played by Giorgio Berrugia, was not long ago a member of the ensemble at Dresden opera. Decked out in brown striped jacket and trousers with an orange shirt and carrying what looked like a white cloth supermarket shopping bag the tenor Berrugia was the star of the evening. As the guy who never gets the girl Nemorino’s down trodden, rather puppy dog look demanded pathos; at one point he even suffered the humiliation of having to wear a dunce’s cap. Berrugia sang with real tenderness and splendid diction revealing real personality in his voice. His much loved aria Una furtiva lagrima (A furtive tear) was extremely moving and the audience showed their appreciation.

Nadja Mchantaf in the role of Adina was given plenty of opportunity to shine. With a voice that is bright and highly attractive the classy Mchantaf is really suited to the high tessitura of the part and acts well too. In particular, her aria Prendi, per me sei libero (Take it, I have freed you) was pleasingly sung. Giving a persuasive performance the confident baritone Marco Vinco was probably younger than I was expecting for the wacky Doctor Dulcamara – a role that I tend to associate with a bass voice. With his spiky blonde streaked hair complete with red umbrella and a black megaphone in hand Vinco brought a youthful energy to the role, and quickly gained favour with the audience blustering away with his humorous aria Udite, udite, o rustici (Hear me, hear me, oh peasants).

Another fine singer and actress was soprano Romy Petrick making the most of her role of Adina’s friend Giannetta. With her strong attractive voice I’m sure that larger roles are not far away for this talented performer. Christopher Magiera as Belcore did a reasonable job, although his voice showed some strain and additional weight was needed. Sergeant Belcore’s troop of eight soldiers sang well and were superbly choreographed. When they first appeared I couldn’t understand why they were wearing white paper disposable cover-all suits. They wore striking full dress uniforms black, white and red with black bicorn hats adorned with blue and red plumes. The twenty or so village girls didn’t have too much work to do but their contribution was excellent.

Some of the special effects were both impressive and humorous. For a while I had been wondering about the purpose of the long chunky rope dangling tantalisingly from the roof. Everyone found out when it was pulled, (by Nemorino, I think) and immediately a large chandelier fell from the ceiling and the light dimmed to herald the end of Act One. The small ridge tent provided a number of laughs with the long line of soldiers and village girls going in and out of it to disappear and reappear. I was also impressed by the special effect with the metre high mound that appeared in the parquet floored stage and was magically pressed down with light pressure from Nemorino’s hand.

As I expected the Staatskapelle Dresden conducted by Riccardo Frizza were assured and sounded mightily impressive. I realise it can’t be easy, but like many conductors Frizzi seemed unsure as to when to allow space for the applause after a significant scene or aria. I thought Michael Schulz’s production team and well chosen cast were a real success. This was a highly entertaining evening and everyone concerned can be justly proud of their endeavours with L’elisir d’amore.

Michel Cookson