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For Love -- And Money

Amsterdam Music Theatre
10/29/2009 -  & October 31, November 2, 4, 6, 2009, June 28, 30, July 2, 4, 7, 9*, 11, 2010
Gaetano Donizetti: L’elisir d’amore

Valentina Farcas (Adina), Dmitry Korchak (Nemorino), Tommi Hakala (Belcore), Renato Girolami (Dulcamara), Renate Arends (Giannetta)
Koor van De Nederlandse Opera, Martin Wright (Preparation), Nederlands Kamerorkest, Riccardo Frizza (Conductor)
Guy Joosten (Director), Johannes Leiacker (Sets), Jorge Jara (Costumes), Davy Cunningham (Lighting Design), Andrew George (Choreography)

R. Girolami (© Marco Borggreve)

While the potion flogged by that quintessential huckster, Dulcamara, was just an ordinary wine, there was nothing ordinary about this marvelous Guy Joosten production just finishing up its run in Amsterdam. Rich in imaginative ideas, costumes and staging, enlivened by energetic and talented singers, realized with zest and superb performances by the chorus and orchestra (under Riccardo Frizza), this was an evening to treasure. I did, and I certainly was not the only one. I have seldom seen an audience having so much fun.

How could they not? Joosten created a weird and wonderful mixture of Las Vegas and Marcel Duchamp. The staging combined vast empty spaces with what seemed to be found objects strangely juxtaposed. It was all rather like the physical embodiment of the nonsense of Dulcamara's claim that his potion can cure every malady from wrinkles to unrequited love. The impossible remains impossible but it also remains vastly entertaining. Just a few examples of many: We see Nemorino reclining in a bathtub surrounded by old tires. Adina emerges, swathed in furs, from another tub where she has been taking a bubble bath. Dulcamara keeps his bogus brew in the trunk of an old car. And he makes his entrance, surrounded by show girls and flanked by muscle-bound men, strutting down a flight of illuminated stairs. The red tinsel curtain shimmered under the lights.

The production debuted in late 2001 and featured Bryn Terfel as Dulcamara, as an irresistible combination of Elvis, Liberace and the quintessential traveling salesman, clad in a white shimmering suit with his hair slicked upward. Renato Girolami was our Dulcamara and he virtually oozed charisma and energy. He sang with gyrating hips and swaggered about the stage. He was in fine voice, albeit a bit underpowered at the lower end of his range.

The hapless and hopelessly love-struck Nemorino was sung by the superb Russian tenor, Dmitry Korchak, in his company debut. He has a beautiful, rich tone, superb legato, and a marvelous blooming top. There was a lovely sweetness about both his manner and his voice. Korchak created a convincing portrait of a poor young man, tricked out of all his money by Dulcamara's promise that a phony potion would make the beautiful and rich Adina fall in love with him. Yet he also displayed fine comic instincts, giving full effect to the silliness and fun that are so much a part of this opera.

Romanian soprano, Valentina Farcas, a member of the ensemble of the Komische Oper, Berlin, was a delicate and charming Adina. While her voice sounded rather tremulous early on, she steadily improved and delivered some spot-on coloratura singing. Finnish baritone,Tommi Hakala in fine voice, was a suitably macho Belcore and a great foil for Nemorino. Dutch soprano Renate Arends as Giannetta also turned in an accomplished performance.

Donizetti's score is, of course, irresistible filled as it is with beauiful melodies, most famously Nemorino's “Una furtiva lagrima”. Korchak sang it with melting tenderness.The orchestra under Riccardo Frizza did full justice to the score. Indeed, from the first notes of the overture we could hear this conductor's confident yet delicate touch as the stunningly beautifully pastoral melodies unfolded, with particularly lovely playing by the woodwinds. The chorus was marvelous – as accomplished at comedy as they were in song. For example, at the very beginning, twenty five members of the chorus hidden inside life-size bottles of Dr. Dulcamara’s phony elixir filled the stage, looking rather like the wonderful old red phone boxes that used to grace London.

After prolonged and well-deserved applause, the audience drifted out into the warm Amsterdam night, chatting and smiling. The original production was recorded for television. Several clips have been posted on youtube. A DVD would enable a much wider audience to share in the fun.

Arlene Judith Klotzko



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