in: Reviews

July 28, 2017

BMO Pours Fine Potion

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Travelling quack Dr. Dulcamara (Jason Budd) offers a love potion. (Chris McKenzie photo)

Boston Midsummer Opera’s ebullient production of Donizetti’ s The Elixir of Love, featuring soprano Joanna Mongiardo as a confident Adina and Eric Barry as a hilarious and vulnerable Nemorino, could be the highlight of your summer theatrical experience. Sung in Italian with large, clear supertitles, the show was staged by director Antonio Ocampo-Guzman, who currently teaches theater at Northeastern. Dynamic conductor Susan Davenny Wyner led the BMO orchestra in Bryan Higgins’s chamber arrangement (1.2.1.1 2.2.0.0 with 11 strings and one percussionist) from upstage behind a scrim. The design team includes Stephen Dobay (sets including a charming Sendak-like orange grove), John Cuff, (lighting both over the stage and in the audience), and Elisabetta Polito (costumes).

Founded in 2006, and helmed by Davenny Wyner since 2007, Boston Midsummer Opera has mounted favorite operas as well as lesser-known examples like its successful take on Martha of Flowtow in 2015. Mosesian Center for the Arts (formerly known as the Arsenal Center for the Arts) offers free parking, half a dozen walkable dining choices, and a spacious, accessible, air-conditioned, medium-sized theater that invites innovative, open staging. Wednesday night’s blocking concentrated the action in the front 2/3 of the large stage and extended it into much of the raked house, as important characters (such as Belcore and Nemorino) emerged from the upper rows. The powerful leading singers cavorted much within the audience. It provided a rare thrill of being able to feel the full force of operatic technique a breath away.

Ocampo-Guzman’s direction emphasizes the “cozy intimacy” of Donizetti’s charming comedy. He comments, “It has been traditional to think of L’elisir d’amore as a ‘tenor opera,’ focusing on the funny travails of the young, penniless peasant Nemorino. However, I am most intrigued by Adina, a very complex, and, I would say, very modern woman. Not only does she own the farm, she is determined to call the shots in her own life, even when it reveals an edgy, nasty side to her. Her music has exquisite touches of this fiery and intricate personality and a beautifully delineated dramatic arch.”

Jason Budd, a delightful Dr. Dulcamara, dominates the stage from his first entrance. His arch comedic touches depict a world filled with mendacity and opportunism; his opening aria (“Udite”) establishes his character as a businessman to be reckoned with. Donizetti’s operatic landscape also explores arrogance, personified by the soldier Belcore, masterfully sung by baritone Keith Phares. A former trumpet player, Phares makes his BMO debut with this role, chewing scenery with a robust, ringing tone.

A fantastically strong ensemble of nine local professionals, including Erica Petrocelli (Giannetta), Britt Brown (Giannetta cover), and Sara Womble (a young soprano recently featured in several Boston Lyric Opera productions and special events) made an outsized impression. The male choristers, bass-baritone Seth Grondin (Dulcamara cover), Rafael Helbig-Kostka (Nemorino cover) and baritone Andrew Miller (Belcore cover) mostlyplay soldiers; they matched perfectly in projection with the ladies: all deserve a shot at major roles. Favorite local singers including soprano Lindsay Conrad (veteran of three BMO productions), and two strong voices from the recent Odyssey Opera production of Patience, mezzo-soprano Heather Gallagher and tenor Sean Lair filled out the confident cast. Gallagher will appear as Margaret Hare this fall in the Boston Lyric Opera’s premiere of The Nefarious, Immoral but Highly Profitable Enterprise of Mr. Burke and Mr. Hare.

Nemorino (Eric Barry) joins Adina (Joanna Mongiardo) and the village girls (Chris McKenzie photo)

The show ran by faster than some may expect. The long chorus of acclamation introducing Dulcamara has been cut completely, and most standard aria cuts were taken. Voices overpowered the chamber orchestra group at all times, but this lends credence to Davenny Wyner’s notes that, “the comic characters come straight out of the tradition of commedia dell’arte.” Her direction brought out sparking wit, gaiety, and an expressive emotional content for each leading soloist, particularly focusing the string sonority during Adina’s dynamic, independent music. Her attention to detail and contrast in the duets, revealed emotional strength in Nemorino and warmth in Adina.

The run continues on Friday, July 28th at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, July 30th at 3:00 p.m). Richard Dyer will offer a pre-opera talk one hour before each performance. Tickets at $62.00 to $52.00 are on sale at www.bostonmidsummeropera.org, or by calling Mosesian Center for the Arts box office at 617-923-8487.

A longtime advocate of new music, Prichard is a regular pre-opera speaker for the San Francisco Opera and Boston Baroque. She has taught courses on music and theater history at Northeastern University and UMass-Lowell.

8 Comments

  1. Susan Davenny Wyner did not do the orchestral arrangement for this opera. This very excellent arrangement was done by Bryan Higgins of Motet Music Publishing.

    Comment by Ellen Golde — July 29, 2017 at 5:34 pm

  2. Thanks…duly noted and corrected

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — July 29, 2017 at 6:29 pm

  3. I always look forward to Boston Midsummer Opera’s productions. They have a freshness and authenticity that some of our other local opera groups lack. It was easy to get caught up in the very funny antics (and fine singing) of Jason Budd as Dr. Dulcamara and I agree with the reviewer that Budd dominated the stage from his first entrance. But an interesting transition happened half way through the opera. Eric Barry as Nemorino, who was theatrically invisible in Act I, blossomed into an outstanding actor and bel canto Italianate exponent in the aria Una Furtive Lacrima. I had the impression that greater communication with the conductor would have given more freedom to this moment and allowed time to stop its sometimes nervous pace in this show. Yet, for the first time in the opera, I was transported above Donizetti’s silliness, by Barry’s poignant musicality. Barry had pulled off stunning character development by the end of the opera and he was no longer a cartoon.

    When Dr. Dulcamara reprised his schtick for the fourth time, it fell flat as a good joke does told once too often. By the end of the opera, Barry/Nemorino had shown us that simple goodness and sincerity expressed in ravishing singing can elevate a comedic opera (and this production) to a moving experience.

    I listened to recordings after of Caruso, Pavarotti, and Domingo singing Una Furtiva Lacrima and was interested to see that Barry was in the Caruso camp–a slower delivery and a sweet guileless tone.

    Comment by Mary Runkel — July 29, 2017 at 9:46 pm

  4. Lee, suggest we forcefully ask this Runkel person to do some reviewing.

    Comment by david moran — July 30, 2017 at 12:00 am

  5. I want to commend the director for not inflicting a “personal” interpretation on this traditional jolly take on love. So many contemporary presentations of the standard repertoire feel obliged to produce some gimmick that informs us that we’re up-to-date. There are operas, such as this one, which are just fine as they are, with music and a message that are timeless.

    Comment by Jerry — July 30, 2017 at 6:57 pm

  6. I found Barry to be full of pathos and very compelling as a character from his very first entrance in Act I, esp. as he commented on the action from his (occasional) seat halfway up the left audience aisle. A fantastic performance!

    Comment by Laura Prichard — July 30, 2017 at 7:25 pm

  7. I’m glad you agreed with me, Laura, on Barry’s singing. I couldn’t tell from your specific comments of “emotional strength” and “hilarious and vulnerable” what you thought about the quality of his tone and delivery.

    Comment by Mary Runkel — July 31, 2017 at 8:52 pm

  8. This was entertainment! Kudos all around. In a few productions at the end Dr. Dulcamara makes off like he’s getting out of town while the gettin’s good; we needed perhaps one more run-through of the final chorus to accomplish his hurried departure so a few parts of the production seemed too brief. The whole production left me with a smile in the heart and glad I went. The “character development in Nemorino was noticeable; he was weaker at the opening. You wonder why he even thinks he might get Adina at all; she seems too ready to fall for the braggart soldier. Yet Adina and Nemorino “grow up” by the end of the opera and that may be Donizetti’s intention to make this more than just a trivially silly commedia dell’arte plot. Anyways if you didn’t see it you should have gone–and a night out with air-conditioning. Beats stupid Hollywood movies.

    Comment by Nathan Redshield — August 4, 2017 at 12:29 pm

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