Seattle Opera’s new season begins with a romp through Donizetti’s Elixir

United StatesUnited States Donizetti, The Elixir of Love: Soloists, Chorus of the Seattle Opera, Seattle Symphony / Giampaolo Bisanti (conductor). McCaw Hall, Seattle, 7.8.2022. (ZC)

Amitai Pati as Nemorino © Sunny Martini

Director – Stephen Lawless
Sets and Costumes – Ashley Martin-Davis
Lighting – Thomas Hase
Chorus Master – Michaella Calzaretta

Nemorino – Amitai Pati
Adina – Salome Jicia
Giannetta – Tess Altiveros
Belcore – Rodion Pogossov
Dulcamara – Luca Pisaroni

‘Sometimes operas do have happy endings’. This was the understated promulgation that Christina Scheppelmann, Seattle Opera’s General Director, made to the audience at the commencement of the company’s 2022-2023 season. And it was an apt observation, for the Seattle Opera’s opening salvo this season is none other than Donizetti’s bel canto masterpiece, The Elixir of Love.

One of Donizetti’s most famous works, it tells the story of Nemorino and Adina, two young and beautiful people who, despite their hopeless and hapless actions, eventually find true love together. Along the way, Sergeant Belcore and Doctor Dulcamara, a physician of questionable credibility, create most of the comedy’s conflict. Belcore tries to wed Adina, much to the chagrin of Nemorino. Meanwhile, the itinerant Dulcamara sells Nemorino a potion that he claims will make all the women in town lust after him. The plot fizzes along with light hearted zip, thanks in no small part to seemingly endless bel canto numbers. In the end, almost everyone gets what they want.

Elixir premiered in 1832, and many traditional productions are set in this general time period. But for this one, Nemorino and Adina’s amorous antics were brought forward to 1943 Italy. The visuals are the handiwork of Ashley Martin-Davis, who originally prepared it for the Santa Fe Opera. The sets exude a rural but recognizable rusticity, while the production’s costumes are suitable for both time and place. Nemorino works at an auto shop with the sleeves rolled up on his mechanic’s jumper, and Adina, the town’s teacher, curries the affection of local men with an alluring charm and beauty. Early in the opera, the US Army quite literally rolls onto the stage with Belcore riding shotgun in a dusty, olive-green jeep. This updated setting shakes off the exuberance sometimes found in more traditional productions and, by placing the action in the not-too-distant past, it establishes the opera’s characters, comedy and earnestness as more relatable than traditional, pre-modern tellings. It makes the story worthy of serious consideration.

The ensemble cast dazzled during this Sunday matinee performance. Amitai Pati’s affecting Nemorino won the day with a carefully sculpted sensitivity and, in the famous ‘Furtive Tear’ cavatina, Pati sung every line with perfect subtlety. Opposite Pati was Salome Licia’s likable Adina, whose beautiful, acrobatic voice impressed in every scene. The secondary characters – Rodion Pogossov’s overconfident Belcore, Luca Pisaroni’s rapid-fire Doctor Dulcamara and Tess Altiveros’ Giannetta – provided their own splendid singing and necessary comedy. The orchestra’s spirited, luminous playing was led by conductor Giampaolo Bisanti.

Even if the opera is a familiar favorite, with its strong cast, stimulating sets and costumes, this staging will provide plenty of laughter.  For opera novices, it is an ideal introduction and a light-hearted way to end the summer in Seattle.

Interestingly, the Seattle Opera will stage another love story, Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, in October which, as the tonal opposite of the Donizetti, makes for a compelling comparison.

You can enjoy The Elixir of Love on stage at McCaw Hall through 20 August, with a special ‘pay as you are able’ performance set for the 14th.

Zach Carstensen

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