Saturday, February 29, 2020

Singing of love potions and love, the Jerusalem Opera performs Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore" at the Jerusalem Theatre; conductor: Omer Arieli

Avigail Gurtler-Har-Tuv,Pavel Suliandziga(Elad Zagman)

Love potions — and the results expected from them — have been around for a long time. Romance can be painfully hard to come by, and the idea of a magic formula that turns endless frustration into instant passion can be just so appealing! This is the theme of Gaetano Donizetti’s opera “L’Elisir d’Amore” (The Elixir of Love), the Jerusalem Opera’s production that took place in the Sherover Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre on February 24th, 2020. Jerusalem Opera musical director and founder Omer Arieli conducted soloists, the Jerusalem Opera Chorus (director: Inbal Brill) and the Israel Sinfonietta Beer Sheva in the performance of this opera, the most popular of Donizetti's works.


First performed in 1832 in Milan as well as in Berlin, the opera's popularity was quick to spread around the globe. "L'Elisir d'Amore" (libretto: Felice Romani) is a comic opera, with romance as its central plot, and winding up with a happy ending. A composer in great demand after the success of his 1830 work "Anna Bolena", it seems Donizetti wrote this opera in only a few weeks. (He composed 36 operas by age 34 mostly at breakneck speed). Indeed, this opera actually takes some detail from the composer's personal life: like the lead of the opera, Nemorino, Donizetti had his military service purchased by a wealthy female patron. 


Served by his richly-timbred, fresh and easeful singing, rich in legato, young tenor Pavel Suliandziga (Russia) was totally convincing in his portrayal of the shy, naive, awkward and love-sick country bumpkin Nemorino, his whole physical bearing changing when he finally realizes he has won the love of Adina (Avigail Gurtler-Har-Tuv). Looking up to the heavens, his performance of  the bittersweet aria "Una furtiva lagrima"  in Act 2, referring to his seeing "one furtive teardrop" in Adina's eye as a sign that he might still have a chance with her - he would sooner die than be with any other woman - was  sung with melancholy and great sensuality, emerging as a high point of the performance. Stripping everything else away, leaving Suliandziga alone on stage, focused our attention on the beauty of the melody and the humanity of the longing in Nemorino’s heart. Avigail Gurtler-Har-Tuv as Adina, a beautiful landowner, who spends much of the time tormenting Nemorino with her indifference, sang exquisitely, imbuing the character with effervescent charisma, engaging in the role’s technical demands with flare, boldly scaling its wide diapason as well as its emotional content. Bass-baritone Yuri Kissin (Russia-France), sporting a rich and powerful voice,  was marvellously cast in the “melodramma giocoso” role of the hood-winking travelling quack Dr. Dulcamara, contending effortlessly with the role’s large range as he convinced the clueless Nemorino of the need to drink the elixir of love, at the same time, offering the audience some mirthful, good-natured entertainment. Displaying some fine singing, but somewhat more restrained than the vendor of potions, German-American baritone Samuel Berlad, as army captain Belcore, more pompous than dashing, did, indeed, cut the figure of the army man. In her role of the pert Giannetta, mezzo-soprano Iphigenie Worbes (Germany-Israel) brought solid vocal ability, charm and geniality to the character.


With the Beer Sheva Sinfonietta members seated to one side of the stage, soloists and opera chorus managed well with half of the stage, on which there were a few props to suggest a rural setting. Attractive costuming would have added to the visual side of the performance. Maestro Arieli maintained good energy throughout the two acts, with the Sinfonietta’s players lending plenty of colour and sparkle to Donizetti’s score, with the opera chorus, competent and strong, always willing to share in the excitement and sorrow of the main characters, heartily endorsing all action on stage. 


The light-hearted opera, featuring a phony love potion that is nothing more than a bottle of cheap red wine, winking humour, human and endearing characters and a charming love story, set to masterful bel canto music, is filled to the brim with sumptuous arias and melodies. Perhaps along with all the laughs, Donizetti's unassuming comedy does present a measure of home truth - that, when it comes to love, the genuine article beats any potion-induced passion! The Jerusalem Opera’s high-energy, sassy and tasteful production gave the stage to all the above, at the same time, adding yet another feather to the Jerusalem Opera’s cap.

Yuri Kissin, opera chous (Elad Zagman)

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