There were grumbles in some quarters that the L.A. Opera had chosen to open its 2009-10 season with a feather-weight bel-canto comic opera, and there were empty seats scattered through the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Bad news for the stay-aways: You missed out on one of the L.A. Opera’s most enchanting offerings.
Gaetano Donizetti’s all-knowing essay on human frailty is compounded from familiar elements: Nemorino, the gullible, lovesick boob (here, tenor Giuseppe Filanoti); Adina, the capricious love object (soprano Nino Machaidze); Doctor Dulcamara, the itinerant huckster peddling “Queen Isolde’s Love Potion” (bass Giorgio Caodura); and Belcore, his dashing rival (baritone Nathan Gunn). They are tidily meshed in Felice Romani’s uncommonly wise libretto; indeed, “L’elisir d’amore” stands out as one of the best-organized of the so-called bel canto operas. The version currently on view at the Chandler merits that esteem.
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Machaidze and Filanoti: Could this be the next great operatic couple in the Netrebko/Villazon stripe? L.A. Opera has come up with a winning combination: a tenor of the velvet voice to endow the opera’s big aria (“Una furtiva lagrima”) with the hoped-for bring-down-the-house ovation, and a sensationally gifted soprano making her North American debut.
“L’elisir d’amore” has suffered from attempts at rewrite; one notorious but widely popular version transports the action from an Italian farm village to the American Wild West.
But no such desecration mars the action at the L.A. Opera. Director Stephen Lawless has staged the opera as a folk tale enacted by real folks. Designer Johan Engels’ set adds considerably to the sense that you are there with a believable small farm complete with bales of hay and loaders. The orchestra under conductor James Conlon fairly glistens with the bright colors of Donizetti’s orchestration.