L’elisir d’amore: Your love is my drug

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.

Bonus: it helps me organize my study of the art of Otto Schenk.  Because here we have ur-Schenk.  It’s CUTE!

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?

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  1. Thanks for the link (I love the idea of a Proben-Laterne) and enjoy tonight!
    I am particularly looking forward to Corbelli's Dulcamara, because he is awesome and my recent Dulcamaras have been badly miscast.
    Who are Calleja's five tenors with exclusive recording contracts? I got Calleja himself plus Flórez, Kaufmann, and Villazón, but who is the last one? does Bocelli count? Domingo? Grigolo? Pretty sure it isn't Alagna anymore.
    Also got a ticket for Luisa Miller on Sunday because why not!

  2. You see, for the Münchners who have seen this production, the Laterne is a question of importance ;). –
    Good question …
    Yeah, I do that too, when I travel somewhere for a perfomance, I book what is around it, if it looks at least slightly interesting, one never knows…
    I think you said earlier, that you will see it on the 3rd, so we will have a different Adina.-
    I like what Calley says in that interview about saving lives, it is nicely put.

  3. Zerbinetta, when you review the underpants production … it isn't that production anymore !!!… in this round they took out of it everything that made it fun and charming etc.

    I have hardly ever been so disappointed in all my opera evenings in Munich. The production is unrecognizable in it's current state. It is not what people have been talking about. All the little details don't take place, so when you see it, you won't know what I am on about, simply because they are not there …

    I don't think I can handle another evening of this, although I already have the ticket …
    that would be a first, not going when in posession of a ticket ;). I once or twice left at intermission, but never didn't go.

    Calleja sang very well, probably with the most ease of all of the tenors I had in this.
    And also high up, but this hardly mattered, as the production is not just about that.
    Corbelli and Borchev were absolutely no match to Maestri! (a thousand times more amusing and better singing in this) and Capitanucci. I found them very disappointing.

    Adina was the same as ever (you'll have Tatulescu however), she had very good chemistry with all of the tenors so far, however there was very little chemistry in between Calleja and her.

    The conducting was so slow, it was bordering on tragedy, I thought.

    I need a drink!

  4. PS Forum Festspiele/ Maximilian more or less agrees, it seems:
    Vollbesetztes Haus beim Liebestrank mit einem stimmlich glanzvollen Calleja. Leider wollte er sich nicht recht auf diese Inszenierung einlassen, machte zwar alles mit, aber nicht aus Überzeugung, was den Gesamteindruck doch schmälerte. (…) Corbelli bot alte italienische Schule mit wenig Stimme, die neue Generation in Gestalt von Borchev verfügt leider nicht über solche „Erinnerungen“ und musste seinen überforderten Bariton künstlich aufplustern.

  5. Thanks for the report, but oh noooooo! I'm so sorry to hear that! I haven't seen it before so I won't be able to tell the differences, but that's the challenge in reviving these complicated productions with different casts, isn't it? Maybe it will be better by the end of the run when I'm seeing it? We'll see…

  6. Maybe, but the run is short with it's 3 performances :). I think for that everybody would have to drink an Elisir.

    In the interview already Calleja stated that he doesn't agree with the general idea of the production, so I suppose I expected something a bit different, but not THAT different.
    I personally also really didn't like Corbelli. Even if Maestri hadn't been so super good before as he had been.

    About reviving a production, generally I would agree with what you say. The thing is, though, that when I had Breslik, it was like this: The first time they got him on the day of the performance by train, the second time he was flown in by helicopter from Salzburg and had been in the house for 10 minutes, when he had to appear on stage. All this while singing a new role in Salzburg the next week.
    He did a fine performance nevertheless, where all the comedy was nicely in place! Obviously it was helped by having the original cast unchanged at these performances, but it is Nemorino, who does most of the clowing ;), it used to be a charming production because of that.

    I thing I was most sorry for was, that I hadn't bought that big bottle of Galliano when shopping before, that would have come in handy afterwards…

  7. I hope you can explain what the differences are after I see it! Now I'm very curious.

    I like Corbelli but I've never seen him in a pure buffo patter-type role, I think just Gianni Schicchi, Fille du Régiment, and Adriana.

    I'm glad you had your own Elisir. I hope it was an Act 2-sized bottle.