Sometimes the Wiener Staatsoper has a Noises Off! quality to it. I’m not talking about onstage mishaps, though those happen also, or middlebrow artistic attitudes, though those are far too common as well. No, I mean cast changes! When ensemble member Benjamin Bruns fell ill and couldn’t sing Nemorino last night, Ramón Vargas, in town for Un ballo in maschera, took it on. I’ve always thought Vargas a likeable guy and these one-off performances can be great fun, so I spent my
beer Beerenpunsch money on a gallery standing room spot.
Donizetti, L’elisir d’amore. Wiener Staatsoper, 12/21/2010. Production by Otto Schenk, conducted by Guilermo García Calvo with Julia Novikova (Adina), Ramón Vargas (Nemorino), Tae Joong Yang (Belcore), Alfred Sramek (Dulcamara), Elisabeta Marin (Giannetta)
I’ve never found never found Ramón Vargas’s forrays into bigger rep very convincing; he lacks a certain vocal heroism and stage authority (his earlier, more lyric efforts are excellent). But those would be liabilities when you’re Nemorino, and last night he turned in a free-wheeling performance of joyous singing and wonderfully undignified acting. It wasn’t very polished in an acting sense, but come on, it’s Nemorino, the primary task is to be endearing and dumb. And Vargas has that down, much more than Flórez in October. Vocally he sounded better than I’ve heard him in ages, with sweet tone and unbroken legato, though he sings pretty much everything forte and the one time he tried a piano (cadenza of the Lagrima), he immediately went flat. But such are the costs of the spinto years.
|Yes, that’s La Netrebka. Only photo I could find.|
Julia Novikova was a more vivacious and capricious Adina than Sylvia Schwartz in October. She has a beautiful upper range and easy coloratura, and showed sensitive phrasing in “Prendi.” But in a lyric role her voice is perilously small for the Staatsoper, and her sound got lost in ensembles. Tae Joong Yang’s Belcore has grown in comedy since October and is now quite funny, but he struggled with intonation in the aria and elsewhere sounded blustery. Vienna favorite Alfred Sramek sleep-walked through Dulcamara’s aria and somewhat compensated with tired schtick elsewhere.
I didn’t notice anything distinctive coming out of the pit but Guillermo García Calvo kept things together a lot better than Yves Abel did in October.
Otto Schenk’s production makes a better visual impression from the gallery than it did from the Parterre Stehplatz, because you can appreciate the depth of the stage and don’t see the dopey and wrinkly backdrop that clearly. But it still has the colors and details of a picture postcard and none of the texture that brings something to vivid life, or the ideas that would focus the story in any particular direction beyond a children’s book. People really like skipping around in circles in this production. It’s totally kitsch, and while L’elisir d’amore isn’t exactly an opera of extremes, if can be more touching and human and less old-fashioned cute if you give it a push.
Of course it probably looked better in 1973, when this production premiered. A coat of paint would do wonders, though it wouldn’t make it be about anything. Remember, you can see this production on DVD with Anna and Rolando. But if you’re just looking for an Elisir, I recommend Angie and Roberto in happier days more highly.
This is the first full entry in my series Schenk/Anti-Schenk. The Anti-Schenk counterpart will be David Bösch’s Bayerische Staatsoper production, which I’ll see in early January. Also, I am prepared to take whatever consequences I deserve for this post title. But if L’elisir d’amore were pop music, it wouldn’t be Radiohead in terms of intelligence, would it?