Monday, June 29, 2015

A radiant pom-pom filled L'elisir d'amore at the Zurich Opera

In Zurich Opera's current revival of director Grischa Asagaroff's production of L'elisir d'amore, stars of the opera firmament aligned for a feast of superlative singing in an unashamedly period-proud and polished production with heaps of cheesiness melted in for good measure. It's only five years since the production first premiered in 2010 and it's unlikely dust will settle long on this opera buffa's crisp storytelling for a while.

Damrau, Breslik, Gallo, Cavalletti and Kristoffersen
It starts with a painted proscenium screen incorporating concept drawings, sheet music and composer Donizetti's portrait, suggesting that this is Donizetti's own conceived work for the stage, a work which has remained comfortably in the repertoire since it's first performance in 1832 at the Teatro della Canobbiana in Milan. From there, the sketches are realised with a timeless charm which continue right through to performance end.

Revival director Ulrich Senn's direction breathes exuberance into a bucolic 19th century Basque village with a radiant cast of peasants, soldiers and an exotically quirky quack called Dulcamara. Detail-rich down to the eye-brows and full of crafty comedic action, including a boar which scuttles across the stage, Senn never lets the raw stage distract from the make-believe. Aided by Jürgen Hoffmann's sun-drenched lighting and Tullio Pericoli's splendidly immersive sets and costumes grafted with the warm colours of a summer harvest for the peasants, cool blues for the bumbling contingent of soldiers and pom-poms dotted everywhere getting chuckles of their own, the entire tableaux, with Jürg Hämmerli's delightfully corny choreography, buzzes with life and laughs, backgrounding voices of striking expressivity.

Pavol Breslik and Diana Damrau
Bel canto star soprano Diana Damrau and tenor Pavol Breslik combined in a magical chemistry of seesawing games of love and attraction. From the moment she sits with the villagers to read aloud the story that comes to life of Tristan and Isolde, Damrau, as a devilishly capricious Adina, was ready to relish every moment. Dazzling with vocal depth and a whipping, often silky coloratura, Damrau created a unique and powerful unpredictability wrapped in comfortable confidence to give an all-exciting performance. In every posture imaginable, Damrau delivered, and on just one short innocuous command, the entire range of vocal possibility seemed on display - Damrau's Act II fleeting "M'ascolta, m'ascolta"/"Listen to me" was astounding.

In the battle for Adina's love, Breslik immediately endeared as Nemorino. The eyes could say it all but the body equally moved with uninhibited expression, making the gullible, illiterate and unconfident peasant young man as easy to read as a book. Hoping to find the solution to his woes through the story's telling of a potion with the power to attract, Breslik's Nemorino took Adina's book lovingly, amusingly unable to differentiate its right from wrong side up. With deep reserves to draw from, Breslik's voice was rich, muscular and superbly energised with a smooth legato and rolling coloratura, entwining humour and pathos with remarkable force. In Nemorino's final aria "Una furtiva lagrima"/"A furtive tear", Breslik lifted every note with scorching pathos to summon complete control.

Most auspiciously, Nemorino procured the 'potion' he needs for Adina to fall in love with him from Dulcamara, realised with flair by Lucio Gallo's smokey, resonant and clearly enunciated baritone that drives salesmanship to excellence. Nothing more than cheap wine, Dulcamara's 'potion' gave Nemorino alcoholic confidence as he acts out a cheeky mimicking display of genital adjustment and marching drills characteristic of his rival in love, Belcore.

Massimo Cavalletti and Diana Damrau
As Belcore, pom-pom decorated down to a cottontail, Massimo Cavalletti led his clumsy men with a voice emanating from the earth's core. Charred with charismatic weight and capable of squeezing out extraordinary delicate top notes, Cavalletti's self-confidence and physical bulk none the less lost out to the boyish innocence and persistence of the smaller-framed Breslik. It was in his coloratura that his vulnerability was exposed.

Hamida Kristoffersen added luscious texture and enthralling high notes as Adina's convincing friend Giannetta and Jan Pezzali mimed with unspeakable cuteness (sporting more pom-pom adornment) as he plied amongst the villagers as Dulcamara's companion with his mate, the precision playing, dutiful trumpeter, Urs Dengler.

The Zurich Opera Chorus rose ebulliently after plodding behind the pit and, excepting the many widely spaced tempi overextending the overture, conductor Giacomo Sagripanti gave a life-giving fibrillating heartbeat to Donizetti's score. The Philharmonia Zurich accompanied with a full, balanced and refined sound with stellar musicianship.

Blessed with great acoustic intimacy (and elegant surrounds to admire) the Zurich Opera House theatre treated its audience with a completely seamless night of craft, entertainment, uplifting joy and a surprisingly good amount of pom-poms.

Production photographs by Judith Schlosser

No comments:

Post a Comment