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Opera Review (LA): The Elixir of Love by Donizetti at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

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It was supposed to be a dream cast for The Elixir of Love. The extremely popular tenor Rolando Villazon was to be the tenor lead; Nino Machaidze, a hot new soprano from the Republic of Georgia, was to be the female lead; Nathan Gunn and Ruggero Raimondi (the famed Italian bass) were to be the supporting character roles.

Unfortunately, Villazon had vocal surgery for problems that have plagued him all year, and Raimondi hurt himself in rehearsal. Replacements are nothing new in opera given the sensitivity of the human voice. Luckily Artistic Director Placido Domingo came up with some suitable replacements: Viillazon’s standby, Italian tenor Giuseppi Filamonti, and a young Italian baritone, Giorgio Caoduro, who filled in at the last minute for Raimondi. The result might have been a bit disappointing to those wanting to see Villazon and Raimondi, but the replacements did a more-than-commendable job.

The Elixir of Love (L’Elisir D’Amore) is a Donizetti comic opera that had first been presented in 1966. I had never heard or seen the opera before though it appears regularly on opera stages throughout the world. It is a charming and melodic piece full of bel canto arias, most particularly the famous “Una furtive lacrima,” made famous by Pavarotti. The story involves a rather foolish peasant, Nemorino, who is in love with the cool and wealthy Adina. He is a total failure as a lover, too awkward and shy to get her attention. Into town comes a braggart soldier, Sergeant Belcore, who Adina agrees to marry just to spite Nemorino. Trailing the soldiers is the huckster, Doctor Dulcamara, who sells Nemorino the title’s Elixir of Love. There are complications, of course, mostly comic — especially when the women in town find out Nemorino has just inherited (unbeknownst to him) a large fortune. The resulting female attention convinces Nemorino and Doctor Dulcamara that the Elixir works.

The cast, except for Gunn and Machaidze, was a bit tentative but really came to life in the second act. In fact the whole production, directed by Stephen Lawless, elicited a standing ovation by the curtain call. Gunn was his usual dynamic self, having proven himself so well as Papagano in The Magic Flute. Filamonti was annoying at first, but as he gained confidence as a lover, he blossomed into a leading man and sang “Una furtive lacrima” with beautiful skill and sensitivity. Caoduro has a full and luminous baritone; though, because he is so young, he lacked some of the necessary clowning that could really have made this part delightful.

The true star of the evening was Nino Machaidze, who handled the coloratura passages with skill but betrayed tragic depths when she needed to. She will be a singer to watch. Maestro James Conlin lead the orchestra with gusto, verve, and delicacy. I loved the wheat field setting by Johan Engels and the moody lighting by Joan Sullivan-Genthe.

The Elixir of Love plays at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion through Sept 30th.

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