Opera Review: THE ELIXIR OF LOVE (Lyric Opera Chicago)

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by Barnaby Hughes on October 8, 2021

in Music,Theater-Chicago


Opera is a bit like wine: many are difficult to enjoy at first, but gradually grow on you; a few are impossible to gain a taste for at all; and some entice you from the get go. Gaetano Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love (or L’elisir d’amore) is a superlative example of the latter. It is accessible to first-timers and comfort food for seasoned subscribers. This new-to-Chicago production abounds in fun, laughter, and pageantry. The uniformly excellent cast sings and acts with incomparable beauty, artistry, and joie de vivre.

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 man, 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.

Director Daniel Slater, making his Lyric debut, infuses the production with all the energy and choreography one would expect from a Broadway musical, which keeps the audience rapt and engaged. The comedy occasionally verges on slapstick, but never descends to ribaldry and tomfoolery. Together with designer Robert Innes Hopkins, Slater reimagines the action of Donizetti’s opera in a seaside Italian village during the 1950s, with Adina as the owner of a hotel and Nemorino waiting tables in her outdoor cafe. Chorus members take on roles as varied as hotel staff, tourists, naval officers, and even a cassocked padre. The result is colorful and escapist.

As Nemorino, Charles Castronovo gives an unforgettable performance combining dramatic expression and comedic timing with strong presence and vocal power. His silky and soaring tenor drips with lyricism and clarity, reaching its apogee in Donizetti’s beloved aria “Una furtiva lagrima.” American soprano Ailyn Pérez makes for a doe-eyed and coquettish Adina, whose voice excels in her role’s more tender solos, but blends beautifully with Castronovo’s during the opera’s many delightful duets. American bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen, who is no stranger to Lyric audiences, nearly stole the show as the flamboyant huckster Dulcamara. And Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins is the most likeable Belcore this reviewer has yet seen. Last but not least, second-year Ryan Opera Center member Denis Vélez gives an adorable performance as Giannetta, showing that her diminutive size belies a voluminous voice.

A co-production of Lyric Opera of Chicago and San Francisco Opera, originally created by Opera North, UK, this Elixir of Love easily proves why Donizetti’s bel canto opera remains one of the composer’s most entertaining and outstanding. Flawlessly conceived and executed, this reviewer cannot recommend it highly enough. Go see it! Tell your friends and family. Then go again while there are still seats to be had!

photos by Cory Weaver

The Elixir of Love
Lyric Opera of Chicago
Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive
ends on October 8, 2021
for tickets, call 312.827.5600 or visit Lyric Opera

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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