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 (126.96.36.199 188.8.131.52 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.
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.