'Elixir' was just what the doctor ordered

The elixir in Donizetti’s comic opera, “L‘elisir d‘amore (‘The Elixir of Love’),” is a sham meant to deceive. However, the Virginia Opera’s production of this pleasant work is anything but; it’s the real deal when it comes to providing a potion for enjoyment as heard Sunday in Richmond’s Carpenter Theatre.

One of the more popular bel canto comic operas of all times, “Elixir” is a tale of love sought, rebuked and gained, all centered around a fake love potion that ultimately ends up winning the day for everyone, even to the point of elevating to celebrity status the charlatan doctor pushing cheap wine as a cure all for all things.

To be sure, it’s a paper-thin plot inspired by a previously written libretto which Donizetti crafted into a light-weight, non-contemplative opera. It has an appealing score, some nice vocal moments, one aria of note, and a mild sense of humor.

How to shape these ingredients into smile-worthy reception fell to director and choreographer Kyle Lang. And, basically, it pleased. It wasn’t as bubbly as Dorothy Danner’s 2008 “Elixir,” but it entertained, as evidenced by the audience’s reception.

While the action, as such, revolves around wealthy Adina and her ardent admirer, country bumpkin Nemorino, the humor fell (as it does) to the swaggering Sergeant Belcore and quacky Dr. Dulcamara. It was with these two characters and supporting cast members that Lang placed his bets on ensuring this was in the spirit of things comedic.

And, at this, he succeeded. Belcore, as smartly carried out by baritone Corey Crider, was delightful. He was quite entertaining in his posturing as man’s gift to women, a perfect definition of vanity and self assurance. Most importantly, he sang with velvet tone, easily projecting warmth and sound into the hall.

Similarly was bass-baritone Matthew Burns charming as the snake-oil salesman Dulcamara, whose fun stage entrance from the rafters via a hot air balloon added to his wonderfully entertaining presence. And, like Crider, his vocal output was rich in sound and projection, making both these gents star players in this “Elixir.”

As for Cecilia Violetta Lopez (Adina), the celebrated soprano showcased the qualities required of this coloratura role. Her focused crystalline voice and facile delivery of showy lines proved faultless. If her Adina seemed more plotting than coquettish in her drive to win the love of Nemorino (who she once resisted), the fault was not hers.

Tenor Carlos Enrique Santelli, a 2018 Metropolitan Opera National Council winner, certainly exhibited solid vocal skills, a fine sense of lyricism, and a ringing sound — downstage. Oddly, for a singer who won the prestigious Met award, Santelli’s sound was all but lost when he was upstage and even sometimes downstage. His projection was uneven, unlike the rest of the folk, which tended to dampen interest. Nonetheless, he pulled off “the” aria, “Una Furtiva Lagrima,” which made him, in the ears of the audience, a winner. As Nemorino, Santelli seemed to succeed too well as the shy farmer he’s portrayed to be to justify Adina’s attraction to him.

Lang offered nicely choreographed humor to Belcore and his prancing soldiers, along with other nice touches that provided witty visuals. And he gave the villagers effective movement on and off stage, especially notable given scenic designer Eduardo Sicango’s multi-leveled set. How no one managed not to falter on the many steps and levels being navigated was an achievement.

Orchestrally, Adam Turner drew from the Virginia Symphony a fine sound that enlivened Donizetti’s score. While there were a few tenuous moments between singers and orchestra, the collaboration was, on the whole, strong and worked to create a pleasing and smile-producing “Elixir.”

Shulson, a Williamsburg resident, has been covering the arts for more than 40 years. He makes a guest appearance in Margaret Truman's "Murder at the Opera."

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