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Seattle Opera's Elixir of Love: Quanto è bella!

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Andres Acosta as Nemorino — Photo by Sunny Martini
Andres Acosta as Nemorino — Photo by Sunny Martini

Music by Gaetano Donizetti
Libretto by Felice Romani
McCaw Hall
Opening weekend, August 6 and 7 (onstage through August 20)

Seattle Opera made the right call by opening its 2022-23 season with one of the most delightful operas in the repertoire: Donizetti's Elixir of Love (L'elisir d'amore). It has everything you hope for in a comic opera: great conducting and singing, memorable arias, clever staging, and a lot of laughs. This show is the very personification of "a good time was had by all."

The libretto, by Felice Romani, almost guarantees a great comic opera. It takes place in a small village in Italy, where an ordinary fellow, Nemorino (Andres Acosta and Amitai Pati, in alternating performances), is hopelessly in love with the town beauty, Adina (Salome Jicia). He hasn't got a chance — until a huckster, Dr. Dulcamara (the very funny Luca Pisaroni) comes to town selling a tonic that can solve any problem, including unrequited love. Nemorino spends his last lira to get the fake cure-all so he can lure Adina away from her cocky suitor, Sergeant Belcore (Rodion Pogossov). Seattle's own Tess Altiveros in the role of Giannetta adds her soaring soprano to the touching and hilarious shenanigans that ensue.

Donizetti's music — lively marches one minute, heart-rending arias the next — is so memorable that you leave McCaw Hall humming bits of melodies. The orchestra must have been happy, too, to have debutant conductor Giampaolo Bisanti from Milan on hand to lead the forces. He specializes in Italian opera and understands the delicate balance between humor and melancholy that characterizes comic operas like this one. Bisanti's energy and expressiveness in the pit — punctuated by gestures of applause and encouragement he signaled to the singers from the podium — were a joy throughout. Under his direction, the always excellent Seattle Symphony Orchestra musicians and Seattle Opera chorus performed with exceptional enthusiasm. A special welcome is due to Michaella Calzaretta, making her Seattle Opera debut as chorus master.

Tess Altiveros as Giannetta and Salome Jicia as Adina in Seattle Opera's Elixir of Love — Photo by Sunny Martini  

This stage production, originally created for the Santa Fe Opera, is updated to the late-WWII moment, when American troops were liberating remote Italian villages. Directed by Stephen Lawless, with colorful scenery and costumes designed by Ashley Martin-Davis, the production abounds with effective, amusing details. The ABCs on the school blackboard are partially erased to read "NO" when Adina rebuffs Nemorino in Act I, and then modified to read "Natura" when she explains her fickle nature, and then modified again by the smitten Nemorino to read "N+A" enclosed in a heart. A man clutches his beloved chicken in horror while watching the menu appear on that same blackboard, with every course of the planned wedding feast featuring a chicken dish. Giannetta stuffs her bra with fruit from the table, then gives up, pulls out the fruit, and takes a bite. Dr. Dulcamara raises his hands as if expecting to be arrested whenever someone calls out to him.

Amitai Pati as Nemorino, with chorus in Seattle Opera's Elixir of Love — Photo by Sunny Martini  

Instead of being the town bumpkin, as in traditional performances, Nemorino is here an auto mechanic who gazes longingly across the town square at Adina, the town's schoolteacher. We're always charmed to see children in operas, so we greatly enjoyed watching the small gang of kids running in and out. We were less enthralled with Belcore's GIs, who seemed to point their rifles at the townsfolk for no reason. These are supposed to be chocolate soldiers! Who needs reality in a comic love story?

Nevertheless, the singing was wonderful — Acosta's Nemorino was a standout — and the whole experience was lovely. The opening night audience was appropriately dolled up, as only Seattelites can do, in that mixture of sparkly dresses, crazy ties, stiletto heels, and cool sneakers. The house was nearly full on opening night, less so at the Sunday matinee performance. More than half of the audience members were masked, and most observed social distancing.

It was a jolly crowd, prepared to be pleased. When Nemorino sang his big aria, "Quanto è bella!" (How beautiful she is!) the audience seemed to feel the same way — about the music, the story, and being back in the enchanted atmosphere of McCaw Hall.

For more information and to order tickets, go to https://www.seattleopera.org/.