Last night, the Metropolitan Opera began another run of The Elixir of Love, Donizetti’s comedy of 1832. This is one of the most lovable operas in the repertory. And in the Met’s cast were two of the most lovable singers in opera: Golda Schultz, the South African soprano, and Javier Camarena, the Mexican tenor.
When Diana Damrau (the German soprano) began her career, I often wrote that she had “a secret ingredient,” namely “adorability.” She had a wonderful voice, superb technique—loads of talent. But “adorability” was a wonderful and intangible bonus.
Last night, Schultz sang easily. “It was like falling off a log,” as I once heard Leontyne Price say. Schultz flitted about, vocally, giving a clinic in bel canto and coloratura. In Act I, particularly, her voice seemed a little small for the Met—but she never forced a thing, and it paid a listener to be extra-attentive.
Camarena, you always root for—he is so warm-hearted (like Nemorino, his character, in fact). He started a little roughly last night. His very first note was rough, and so were some subsequent ones. But he soon righted himself, singing like Camarena.
In this production, he wore a long-haired wig—it was a wig, wasn’t it?—which I thought looked a little creepy.
The part of Sergeant Belcore was taken by Davide Luciano, an Italian baritone: beautiful voice, from top to bottom. A regal voice, with a touch of “wetness” to it. Loud as well (which is not to be confused with “loud as hell”). This does no harm at the Met, or elsewhere.
Returning as the “doctor”—Dulcamara—was Ambrogio Maestri, another Italian baritone. For years, I have carried a memory with me. The Met archive tells me it dates from 2012. When Dulcamara arrives in the village, he greets the people with “Udite, udite, o rustici!” “Listen, listen, you rustics!” Back in 2012, Maestri rolled the “r” that begins “rustici” forever. He sang this line with fantastic condescension and flair. I was looking forward to it last night. Instead, he gave the “r” a little flip, as everyone does. The opening line was nothing special. Oh, well.
Maestro Maestri knows this part, and he is particularly adept at Italian patter: all those quick syllables.
You can’t have an Elixir—a proper one, a good one—without a conductor—a proper one, a good one. He is the straw that stirs the drink (or the elixir: the “magico liquore,” as Dulcamara says). In the pit last night was Michele Gamba, from Milan. His bio tells us that he studied philosophy at the University of Milan, writing his dissertation on Hannah Arendt. He was also a piano student, attending master classes given by Maria Tipo.
Maestro Gamba knows his way around bel canto. He was certainly competent in Act I. And yet, this act never quite found its groove, or Donizetti’s. It was not flat. But it did not fizz. There was a touch of the routine about it.
Act II, fortunately, was a different story. There, you had all the vitality you wanted.
Golda Schultz sang with marvelous elasticity. She was “pulling taffy,” as singers sometimes say. How about Javier Camarena, in his big moment, the aria “Una furtiva lagrima”? It was a big moment, sure, but Camarena sang the aria almost offhandedly—inwardly, reflectively. The character was lost in his own thoughts. This was not a tenor making a presentation.
On the final notes—which include that killer accidental (a G flat)—Camarena took his time. This was very effective. Camarena was not at his most secure or pure, but he delivered.
I should say, too, that the harp and woodwinds did their jobs in this aria.
Between Schultz and Camarena, there was a lovely rapport. I believe they cracked each other up—genuinely cracked each other up, as sometimes happens in comedy sketches, on television—after their two characters finally locked lips.
The Elixir of Love includes a small role—Giannetta—that is not insignificant. A soprano can make an impression in it, which Brittany Renee did.
The Met’s production is that of Bartlett Sher, from 2012 (the year that Ambrogio Maestri first appeared as Dr. Dulcamara). Prior to curtain last night, a man near me was complaining about the production to his companion. “It’s horrible,” he said. “It’s horrible. The soldiers are like an invading army of Nazis, instead of, you know: a local regiment.” I agree with this criticism. Always have (for all the virtues of the production).
Preceding that of Bartlett Sher was the production of John Copley, from 1991. Critics tended to slam it as kitschy and cutesy: overly romantic and pretty. I said it looked like an old-fashioned Valentine’s Day card. It was great, lemme tell you: totally Elixir.