As a lover of entertainment, and a writer of little ability, I have fallen into the briar patch.
People give me new CDs and ask me to write my opinion of them, despite no musical ability of my own. I get to go to concerts almost bi-weekly, frequently without even paying.
Now, about every three months I am invited to go see the opera and have begun to look on it with great expectation. It fits nicely with my love of music and watching people do stuff. The opera also compliments my hectic schedule of television, movies, and the occasional baseball game.
During a recent outing to the opera, I enjoyed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love), a story of unattainable love, set in the wine fields of Italy.
Who hasn’t pined after one that is out of reach? Every time you see them, your stomach clenches sickeningly as all the muscles in your body tense. You manage to make inane conversation you will later replay in your mind, cringing at every word. You go out of your way to pass by his or her desk at work. She or he is the friend of a friend you silently pray will come to the party tonight.
This is the personification of everything you want in a mate.
However, you are fat; short; you have fewer than the socially acceptable amount of teeth; you are incapable of expressing emotion to someone you truly care about; and even if you could, why would they go out with you?
Oysters are rumored to be a powerful aphrodisiac; perhaps you could meet at the seafood bar after work. There is an ad in the back of Maxim for a pheromone spray that just might give you the edge you need. Desperate love makes the idea of buying a love potion from a traveling salesman slightly less outrageous.
Opera Colorado premiered this brand new production of the opera, resetting the story of L’elisir d’amore in 20th century Middle America. The hero Nemorino is a poor ice cream vendor, smitten with the beautiful and wealthy Adina. She rebuffs his advances and instead agrees to marry the obnoxious Sgt. Belcore. Women always seem to fall for the jerk.
Dr. Dulcamara, a traveling salesman peddling cure alls, arrives in town just in time to sell the distraught Nemorino a powerful love potion. This “elixir” is just a simple bottle of wine, which is sometimes all a man needs to regain his confidence. The newly drunk and swaggering hero manages to feign indifference towards Adina, hurting her feelings. Fearing that he spent all his money on potion didn’t work, Nemorino sensibly approaches Dulcamara, begging him for more. The good doctor refuses to give him any more of the fantastic tonic until Nemorino is able to come up with money.
Continuing on a solid course of good ideas, the lovelorn young man joins the army for the signing bonus paid to all new recruits, and purchases another bottle. However, unbeknownst to Nemorino, word reaches town that his rich uncle died, leaving all of his wealth to the poor ice cream vendor. This immediately makes him the most eligible bachelor in town, causing all the available women to flock to him. Thinking the elixir has finally worked, Nemorino revels in the attention. Adina is furious to find Nemorino surrounded by girls, and even more so when she discovers he has joined the army. Later, when Nemorino happens on a crying Adina, she tells him how she bought back his enlistment papers, because of her deep love for him. Love prevails, and Dr. Dulcamara, claiming it was all a result of his magic elixir, roars off on a motorcycle.
The set for the production was a large gazebo that looked as if it were set in the middle of a farming town in Kansas. Though he didn’t quite look the part, Barry Bank’s voice and performance carried the underdog role of Nemorino. “Una furtiva lagrima” is the aria where Nemorino expresses all the pain of the desire he feels. The power and emotion Banks poured into it was deeply affecting.
Offsetting the earnest Nemorino, is Dr. Dulcamara played by Simone Alberghini who provided enough rakish swagger to be deceitful yet likeable. His duets with Maria Kanyova showed the range and beauty of both their voices.
Most surprising was how good the background chorus was. These people added depth to both the story and songs. Who are these people, do they aspire to be famous soloists, or are they content with ensemble work?
As a relative newcomer to the opera scene, I was surprised with how much I enjoyed The Elixir of Love, but I am not alone in my enjoyment. The broad appeal of the love story has appealed to audiences since it first premiered over 150 years ago. Tastes may change, but the story does not. Opera has seen a decline in popularity, replaced by motion pictures and Myspace. But movies make millions of dollars with stories based on this one, while people peruse profiles on Myspace looking at people they can’t have. Gene Kelly is dead, but musicals are making a comeback in television and films, so maybe opera can grab back some of its cultural relevance. It is not just for people with buildings named after them, and is not as lofty as it may seem. When Nemorino kicked Sgt. Belcore in the crotch, the entire crowd laughed with me. Everyone enjoys seeing a jerk get kicked in the balls.
On Thursday April 29th, Opera Colorado concludes its season with Un Ballo In Maschera. This is the tale of a love triangle set in a grand masquerade ball. Other than that, I know nothing about it. However, the Denver Public Library holds a class on each opera before it is performed and I hope to attend. If you worship at the altar of entertainment, spend the thirty bucks for a ticket, and you might be surprised. Perhaps you will find something that you anticipate as much as the beginning of Spring Training, or the next episode of Lost.