A rather disappointing L’elisir d’amore at the Teatro Real

SpainSpain Donizetti, L’elisir d’amore: Teatro Real Orchestra and Chorus / Gianluca Capuano (conductor), Teatro Real, Madrid, 2 & 3.11.2019. (JMI)

Juan Francisco Gatell (Nemorino) & Brenda Rae (Adina)
(c) Javier del Real/Teatro Real

Director – Damiano Michieletto
Sets – Paolo Fantin
Costumes – Silvia Aymonino
Lighting – Alessandro Carletti

Nemorino – Juan Francisco Gatell / Rame Lahaj
Adina – Brenda Rae / Sabina Puértolas
Dulcamara – Erwin Schrott / Adrian Sampetrean
Belcore – Alessandro Luongo / Borja Quiza
Giannetta – Adriana González

It has been six years since this Gaetano Donizetti opera was last performed at the Teatro Real. Two different casts have been scheduled, which might be considered as three since Javier Camarena (who is giving a concert here) will star in one of the performances. Unfortunately, the results of the two I attended have not been very bright.

The start of the show is promising, but too promising as it turns out. There is just too much action: everything is in continuous motion, which can become annoying for the singers.

The well-known Damiano Michieletto production places the action in modern times at Adina’s beach bar. There is a colorful stage with a beach full of sunbathers and the bar in the foreground. Nemorino (who sings his aria from the roof of the bar) is one of the lifeguards, and Dulcamara is a drug dealer and pimp who sells a canned elixir containing ‘some white powder’. In Act II, stage left is occupied by a large plastic sled filled with foam. The best moment comes at the end of the opera when the police arrive with dogs searching for drugs, and Dulcamara delivers his drug bags inadvertently to Sergeant Belcore.

The show begins to falter with the musical direction under Gianluca Capuano, who replaced the initially announced Stefano Montanari. Capuano’s reading was rather boring and flat, without much life or inspiration. Under his baton were the excellent orchestra and chorus of Teatro Real.

In the first cast, Nemorino was sung by Juan Francisco Gatell. He was unconvincing, mainly because his voice is that of a light tenor, and Nemorino requires something else. It is not a problem of good or bad singing but of suitability to the role. The second Nemorino was tenor Rame Lahaj, and he too was unconvincing. His voice is better suited to the role than Gatell’s, and it is attractive and quite homogeneous. But his expressiveness leaves much to be desired, and he had projection problems as well.

Soprano Brenda Rae gave a fine performance as Adina. Her voice opens up remarkably in the upper part, although the center lacks volume. She was especially good in her Act II aria with Nemorino, ‘Prendi, per me sei libero’. In the second cast, Sabina Puértolas sang and moved on stage with ease, but her voice is somewhat short in amplitude for Adina. She too was at her best in the scene with Nemorino.

The drug dealer Dulcamara was again played by Erwin Schrott, and he offered his particular take on the character. There is no doubt that he is a remarkable actor and has an important voice, but for me the problem lies in his conception of the role. It would be better if he eliminated all those whistles he blows while singing. Adrian Sampetrean in the second cast was less impressive vocally, but his performance was more restrained and worked reasonably well.

Alessandro Luongo was a correct Belcore, although he seemed to me a bit light for the character. I preferred Borja Quiza’s Sergeant Belcore in the alternate cast.

Finally, the part of Giannetta was interpreted by Adriana González, who did well in her Act II scene.

José M. Irurzun

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