Houston Grand Opera
By HOLLY BERETTO
Houston Grand Opera opened its 2009-2010 season with a frothy frolic of love and the human spirit. Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love is a campy romp, peppered with warmth, good humor and a great deal of heart.
It’s one of those boy-wants-girl, girl-can’t-admit-to-wanting-boy, happy ending affairs. The hapless but hopeful Nemorino is in love with the sassy, educated landowner Adina. So is the loveable rascal Sergeant Belcore. Adina can’t admit she pines for Nemorino, so she agrees to marry Belcore. Enter the quack Dr. Dulcamara, who sells Nemorino an “elixir of love,” which promises to have every woman in the village falling in love with him – 24 hours from ingestion. You can probably guess the madcap turn of events that come next. No worries, even if you see where the story’s heading, you’ll have endless fun along the way.
In her HGO debut, Ekaterina Siurina performs a glorious Adina, with a silvery, glistening soprano, perfectly matched to Donizetti’s bel canto music. Opposite her, as Nemorino, tenor John Osborn (also in his company debut) brings great soul to his part, his voice effortlessly tender, yearning and – ultimately – seducing. Together, they have a pitch-perfect chemistry and their duets showcase their command of the bel canto style.
HGO Studio alumnus Liam Bonner returns in the role of Sergeant Belcore, combining his gift of comic acting and timing with a lyric baritone. Audiences who’ve seen his work during his time in the Studio will flat-out delight in his musical growth. Alessandro Corbelli is a delight as Dr Dulcamara, and his pattering aria hawking his amazing elixir is one of production’s highlights. So is the manic, miming Adam Van Wagoner, the actor portraying Dr. Dulcamara’s assistant who, without singing a note, lifts the spirit of this show to the rafters.
Arriving at HGO straight from this year’s Glyndebourne Festival, this is a sunny, stunning production with sets and costumes by Lez Brotherston and lighting by Giuseppe di Iorio that wonderfully capture a village “somewhere in Italy.” Annabel Arden’s direction happily bounces the opera along, demonstrating both unrelenting joy and great tenderness over the love story at hand.
Conductor Edoardo Muller, who was last seen at HGO conducting the equally joyous La Cenerentola, lifts brilliant melodies from the HGO orchestra, every note underscoring the wistful frivolity of the story. And throughout, the HGO Chorus is simply wonderful. The Elixir of Love proves once again why HGO is one of the finest opera companies in the country, delivering a warm and witty commentary on manners and love, with great, big heart.
Photo by Felix Sanchez: Ekaterina Siurina and the HGO Chorus