San Diego Opera Review: THE ELIXIR OF LOVE (San Diego Opera at the Civic Theatre)

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by Barnaby Hughes on February 18, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


Some artistic works are such a product of their time that it is difficult for later generations to understand them without spending a considerable amount of time studying the work’s context. Others are immediately recognizable because they resonate easily with contemporary audiences. Gaetano Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love (or L’elisir d’amore) is a superlative example of the latter. Flawless in execution, San Diego Opera and director Stephen Lawless infuse the current production with incomparable beauty, artistry, and joie de vivre.

Bass Kevin Burdette is Dulcamara in San Diego Opera's THE ELIXIR OF LOVE.

An entertaining romantic comedy, The Elixir of Love is a far cry from the romantic tragedy of Tristan and Isolde that the opera references at the beginning. While both stories have similar plots, their moods are quite different. Donizetti’s opera tells the story of how a wealthy young woman, Adina, falls in love with a besotted young Soprano Stephanie Weiss is Giannetta in San Diego Opera's THE ELIXIR OF, Nemorino. At the outset, Adina does not return Nemorino’s love, but instead accepts the cocksure advances of the swaggering Sergeant Belcore. When the potion-peddling Dulcamara comes to town promising to cure all ills, Nemorino seizes his chance to win over Adina by purchasing the story’s titular love elixir. Although the enterprising fraudster’s potion is ineffective, Dulcamara sets in motion events that lead to Adina’s change of heart and the triumph of Nemorino. Due to the story’s singular focus and simple plot, it is easy to follow, understand and remember, yet with enough twists and turns to drive the plot forward and to keep the audience engaged.

San Diego Opera General and Artistic Director Ian Campbell has assembled an impressive and talented international cast. As Nemorino, Giuseppe Filianoti gives a virtuosic performance combining dramatic expression and comedic timing with strong presence and vocal power. His soaring and lyrical tenor effortlessly switches between comic banter and heartfelt Soprano Tatiana Lisnic is Adina and tenor Giuseppe Filianoti is Nemorino in San Diego Opera's THE ELIXIR OF LOVE.yearning, reaching its highest expression in Donizetti’s beloved aria “Una furtiva lagrima.” Moldovan soprano Tatiana Lisnic makes for an adorable and captivating Adina, who performs admirably opposite Filianoti. Together they make a perfect pair. Not only do they look good together, but their voices blend beautifully and harmoniously during the opera’s many delightful duets. Kevin Burdette as Dulcamara is a surprisingly likeable huckster. With a voice that is relatively light and limpid for a bass, Burdette is remarkably well-suited to sing the rapid cadences and silly accents of his role. By contrast, as Sergeant Belcore, Malcolm MacKenzie’s baritone is thick and heavy in a manner that meshes well with his macho persona.

Bass Kevin Burdette plays Dulcamara in San Diego Opera's THE ELIXIR OF LOVE.San Diego Opera’s production opts for realism rather than abstraction or even transposition to a more contemporary setting. Although the action is not set in a late-eighteenth century Basque village, as originally envisioned, it does unravel in the rather similar setting of a nineteenth century Italian village. Both set and costumes by Johan Engels give the production a sunny, agrarian character that complements the libretto’s pastoral metaphors. An arched, brick wall punctuated by wooden gates marches across the stage, separating an interior hall-like space from the grain fields beyond. Reminiscent of a Roman aqueduct, the wall superbly provides a sense of place, but also a connection to the past that reveals and expresses the opera’s classic, ageless character.

This flawless production easily proves why Donizetti’s opera was one of the most often performed of its time. Surely the company has gained it a new following and cemented its reputation among devotees.

Tenor Giuseppe Filianoti (Nemorino), baritone Malcolm Mackenzie (Belcore) and soprano Tatiana Lisnic (Adina) in San Diego Opera's THE ELIXIR OF by Cory Weaver

The Elixir of Love
San Diego Opera
San Diego Civic Theatre
1100 3rd Ave (Corner of Third Ave and B Street)
scheduled to end on February 23, 2014
for tickets, call (619) 533-7000
or visit

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