Los Angeles Opera Review: THE ELIXIR OF LOVE (Center Stage Opera in Canoga Park)

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by Barnaby Hughes on June 17, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

FALLING FOR DONIZETTI’S VALLEY GIRL

Opera in Los Angeles seems to be thriving these days. In addition to established companies like LA Opera and Long Beach Opera, there are smaller companies cropping up all over the place, such as Pacific Opera Project, the Independent Opera Company and Center Stage Opera (CSO). While the first two are still rather new, the latter company has been around long enough to do a second production of Gaetano Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love, which closes CSO’s ninth season.

Inspired by the movies of John Hughes, director Dylan F. Thomas reimagines The Elixir of Love as a high school romance set in the 1980s. There are jocks (who also happen to be ROTC cadets), cheerleaders, nerds, goths, etc. As Center Stage Opera performs at the Madrid Theatre in San Fernando Valley’s Canoga Park, it is only appropriate that their current production owes as much to Clueless as to The Barnaby Hughes' Stage and Cinema LA review of Center Stage Opera's THE ELIXIR OF LOVE.Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink (with a bit of cheer classic Bring It On thrown in). The supertitle translations are liberally sprinkled with valley girl phrases such as “like totally” and “gag me with a spoon.”

Setting The Elixir of Love in the 1980s gains the production a number of benefits. Above all, it makes the opera more fun, not only because John Hughes’ movies are fun, but because the audience can relate to it better. The young cast can probably also relate to the 1980s better, though they don’t quite seem to understand the period’s fashions. Generally, they use it as an excuse to put on all sorts of crazy, colorful, clashing clothes – and that saves money on costumes.

In Thomas’s hands, The Elixir of Love becomes a story about an outsider, Nemorino (Benjamin Bunsold), who loves the most popular girl in school, cheerleader Adina (Julia Teal Kermott). Nemorino is no nerd, however; he sports a leather coat and slick hair. Yet, what he lacks in coolness, he more than makes up for in sincerity. In competition with Nemorino for Adina’s affection is Belcore (Benardo Bermudez), the tall, handsome, egoistic star of the football team and a ROTC cadet. Into this fraught love triangle comes Dulcamara (Carl King), the high school science Barnaby Hughes' Stage and Cinema LA review of Center Stage Opera's THE ELIXIR OF LOVE.teacher, with his titular love potion. Of course, Dulcamara’s elixir doesn’t really work, but it does provide the placebo that Nemorino needs to win Adina away from Belcore.

CSO’s young cast sings consistently well, both in the principal roles and in the chorus. Kermott brings abundant smiles and charm to the part of Adina. Her high notes provide rousing conclusions to many of Donizetti’s more boisterous numbers. Although Bunsold looks rather awkward in his outsider getup, he is a natural Nemorino, imparting true feeling and empathy to the tender aria “Una furtiva lagrima.” Brooke deRosa as Giannetta has only a small role, but she fills it well and leaves the audience wanting more. Particularly fun are the many large choruses that adorn Donizetti’s score. CSO has done a great job of bringing in budding teenage singers to bolster the chorus. It’s a pity they haven’t been able to attract more young people to attend.

Center Stage Opera is fortunate to have such a venue in which to perform. The Madrid offers a spacious stage as well as enough space up front for a small orchestra conducted by the energetic Brian Onderdonk. If only the supertitles could be brought lower. A fun and engaging production, Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love showcases remarkable local talent and deserves a wider audience. Stay tuned for CSO’s upcoming season featuring Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

photos by Kathy Flynn

The Elixir of Love
Center Stage Opera
Madrid Theatre in Canoga Park, 21622 Sherman Way
played June 8 and 9, 2013
for info and tickets, visit http://www.centerstageopera.org/

{ 1 comment }

Sonia Flaum June 20, 2013 at 7:12 pm

We all agree with the critique. The Opera was excellent, beautifully sung, and the updating of it was very well done and sensitive. Center Theatre consistently brings wonderful voices and young people to the opera world. Please keep doing what you are doing and congratulations to Dylan F. Thomas, his imagination was fabulous. Also the Orchestra, conducted by Brian Onderdunk, was magnificent; they played sensitively and never drowned out the singers.

Looking forward to next Season at the beautiful Madrid Theatre. Thank you.

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