It may sound strange to compare Opera Theatre of St Louis’ production of The Elixir of Love to a great scoop of ice cream, but bear with me.
The company’s production of Donizetti’s comedic opera is sugary, sweet and goes down smooth. Its rich set design and creamy musical score are topped off by great performances from an ensemble that takes sugary material and adds some flavorful texture.
The Elixir of Love shines as a bold work of operatic entertainment. Stage director Jose Maria Condemi has stripped down the lavishness in order to emphasize the dramatic love story at the center of the plot. Moving the setting from Donizetti’s Basque country to the Grant Wood-esque serenity of bucolic small town America of 1914 is an audacious move that resonates with a modern American Midwest audience.
The story centers around a peasant ice cream vendor named Nemorino who falls head over heels for Adina, a strong-willed uptown girl. Knowing that guys like him don’t catch girls like her, Nemorino buys a love potion from devious and dubious Dr. Dulcamara on the assumption that it will help him win her heart.
As he waits for the potion to do its thing, Nemorino is dismayed to learn that Adina has capitulated her heart and agreed to marry a sergeant named Belcore. Helpless and frantic, Nemorino spirals into an emotional mess, not knowing that he has already won the affection of his dear Adina, who hopes to use her engagement to Belcore as motivation for Nemorino to get on the stick and win her over. Act Two details the several twists, turns, missteps and mishaps as Adina’s wedding day approaches, culminating in a passionate and tumultuous final scene loaded with deceit, emotion and passion.
The ensemble is led by tenor Rene Barbera as Nemorino, and Barbera’s mesmerizing performance is the bedrock of the entire show. His Nemorino is uncorrupted and captivating. Tim Mix plays the conniving Belcore, and in his hands we see a character who will sneak and slither to any depth to win the heart of Adina. Mix plays this role with great relish, and he clearly enjoys playing the heavy. Patrick Carfizzi plays Dulcamara as a smarmy, strictly self-interested huckster; Carfizzi’s a joy to watch onstage as he manipulates poor Nemorino. Susan Biller debuts with OTSL as Adina, a woman’s whose charm and intellect turns every head in town. Strong yet vulnerable, Biller’s Adina can hold her own and is not afraid to scheme herself in order to get one she wants.
Opera Theatre St. Louis’ production of The Elixir of Love is a fun romp and a timeless tale of unrequited love, anchored by a great cast. Scheming, dreaming, lust and love have never been this much fun!
All performances are presented at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the campus of Webster University. For showtimes and more information visit the Opera Theatre's home page
By Rob Levy