Italian tenor Giuseppe Filianoti made a felicitous San Diego Opera debut as Nemorino in Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love (L’Elisir d’Amore)” during a weekend that began with Saint Valentine’s Day.
The performance also was the occasion for the North American debut of Moldovan soprano Tatiana Lisnic as Adina, the home-town girl who makes Nemorino’s heart throb.
The pair was joined by two colleagues familiar to San Diego Opera audiences, Kevin Burdette as Doctor Dulcamara and Malc0lm MacKenzie as Belcore.
The production is the 1996 co-production of the Los Angeles Opera and Grand Theater of Geneva, Switzerland, created by British stage director Stephen Lawless with sets by South African designer Johan Engels.
Giuseppe Filianoti’s Nemorino
California audiences will remember Filianoti’s 2008 appearances at the San Francisco Opera in another Donizetti role, Edgardo [Dessay’s Lucia di Lammermoor Delights in San Francisco – June 29, 2008] and as Nemorino a year later in L. A. [Los Angeles Opera’s Magic Potion: Nino Machaidze in “L’Elisir d’Amore” – September 12, 2009].
In my reports on these previous performances, when Filianoti was in his mid-30s, I had praised the beauty of his lyric tenor voice, but my reviews noted evidence of vocal discomfort at times during both performances.
It was known that he was in the process of rebuilding a career after a 2006 surgery for thyroid cancer from which some experts felt his voice would never recover.
Now, in the year he turns 40, often the time that the tenor voice gains weight and power, it is evident that his recovery is complete – a triumph of will over adversity.
[Below: Giuseppe Filianoti as Nemorino; edited image of a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Diego Opera.]
The role of Nemorino, more than his cousins in the other popular Donizetti comedies – Tonio in “Fille du Regiment” and Ernesto in “Don Pasquale” – needs a voice that is also comfortable singing Donizetti’s tragic tenor hero roles.
(A couple of months from now in Toronto, I’m scheduled to review Filianoti in the title role of “Roberto Devereux”, a character who is beheaded at opera’s end.)
But unlike such Donizetti roles as Edgardo or Gennaro or Devereux or Percy or Leicester, the role of Nemorino is a mix of pathos and pure fun. The character gets to sing Donizetti’s most famous tenor aria Una furtiva lagrima. After ample displays of angst, Nemorino ends the opera rich, happy, and engaged to the girl he’s always loved.
Filianoti, having performed the role under Lawless’ direction in the Los Angeles Opera 2009 season opener has mastered the madcap comic routines that Lawless imbues in the character that is arguably the most likable in all of Italian comic opera.
Rarely off-stage, the Lawless-Filianoti Nemorino abounds in genuinely comic routines.
Yes, Nemorino believes that magic love-inducing elixirs should exist for him, just as they did for Queen Isolde and the Knight Tristan.
At one point the pianist accompanying the onstage recitative slyly plays the love potion motive from the best-known opera about the Irish queen and the Breton knight. (Since we as audiences are supposed to take the love potion in Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” seriously, I don’t think we should judge Nemorino too critically on this point, anyway.)
In Lawless’ staging, Nemorino is, despite his credulity in believing in magical elixirs, is obviously an esteemed presence in this rustic community, and a hard worker in the hay fields.
He displays evidence of some schooling as well. When Sergeant Belcore asks him to make a cross to indicate his signature, Filianoti proudly enunciates as he signs his full name Ne-mo-ri-no.
Filianoti’s Nemorino was a masterful performance, impressive vocally, and abounding in wit and comic inspiration, itself enough for me to recommend obtaining a ticket to see the opera.
Filianoti’s voice is rich and lyrical, exuding the dramatic passion that defines the great Italian tenor – a concept that composer Donizetti had a big part in creating.
Tatiana Lisnic’s Adina
Moldovan soprano Tatiana Lisnic provided a strong balance to Filianoti’s expansive Nemorino, with a bright, warm soprano, and the technical skills required for both its intensely beautiful lyric passages and the occasional vocal fireworks expected of a Donizetti heroine.
[Below: Tatiana Lisnic as Adina; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Diego Opera.]
An engaging actress, she assured that the essential goodness of this character shone through her toying with Nemorino’s heart-strings.
Kevin Burdette’s Doctor Dulcamara
The performance’s Dulcamara was Tennessee bass-baritone Kevin Burdette’s second role at the San Diego Opera. He appeared the previous season in another Donizetti comic opera [Vargicova, Costello, Podles and Burdette Romp in Hilarious, Beautifully Sung “Fille du Regiment” – San Diego Opera, January 26, 2013].
[Below: Kevin Burdette as Doctor Dulcamara; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Diego Opera.]
One of the most interesting (and athletic) of the current artists who assay the comic opera buffo roles [See Buff Buffo: An Interview with Kevin Burdette], he hilariously dispatched Dulcamara’s tongue-twisting patter song announcing the zillion positive virtues of the snake oil he was hawking (with none of the alarming side effects we hear about in our pharmaceutical television advertisements).
His was a memorable Dulcamara, spirited and, beneath all the character’s chicanery, genuinely affecting.
Malcolm MacKenzie’s Belcore
I have admired baritone Malcolm MacKenzie’s work in both lead and character roles at the San Diego Opera, but I consider his performance as Belcore as his strongest yet.
[Below: Malcolm MacKenzie as Sergeant Belcore; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Diego Opera.]
His attractive lyric baritone and comic timing are well suited for the overbearingly conceited sergeant.
In Lawless’ staging, Belcore wears an eye-patch, which, we suspect is itself a conceit, since he later forgets which eye it’s supposed to cover.
The Stephen Lawless Production
The 18 year-old production that has been seen in Switzerland and Austria as well as the opera companies of Houston and Los Angeles, sets the opera partially within a large barn out of which can be seen (at the rear of the stage) hayfields and machinery for its baling.
The barn doors are comprised of sections of lattices that open and close at various points in the opera, allowing swift scene changes.
[Below: Giannetta (Stephanie Weiss, center, with long red hair) embraces Nemorino (Giuseppe Filianoti, center) who is the only person there who is unaware that he has just become the sole beneficiary of a massive inheritance; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Diego Opera.]
American soprano Stephanie Weiss, with local roots, was the Giannetta, an opinion leader of the village’s women folk.
Johan Engels costumes and sets, which now have achieved a degree of venerability, remain vibrant and absorbing. Joan Sullivan Genthe was the lighting director.
Karen Kamensek’s Conducting
Another important San Diego Opera debut associated with the evening was that of Illinois conductor Karen Kamensek, who kept the opera briskly paced.
[Below: Conductor Karen Kamensek; resized image, based on a publicity photograph.]
Kamensek presided over the five principals, the San Diego Opera chorus (Charles F. Prestinari, Chorus Master) and San Diego Opera Orchestra with distinction. Especially noteworthy was the grand concertato that begins with Nemorino’s plaintive Adina, credemi and, in waves of choral music, glowingly ends Act I.
I recommend this production and cast of “L’Elisir d’Amore” without reservation to both veteran opera goers and persons new to opera.