Opera Philly's Charming Elixir

05/05/2016 06:15 pm ET Updated May 06, 2017
Dimitri Pittas as Nemorino
Photo:  Opera Philadelphia On Sunday I was delighted to attend the second performance of Opera Philadelphia's
L'Elisir d'Amore
. I call this production, which originated with the Santa Fe Opera, a success. Although I'm not completely sure why they updated the setting to 1940s-era Italy (although all the military costumes looked quite American), it was a visually beautiful production with design by Ashley Martin Davis, and full of delightful touches from director Stephen Lawless.

Good performances always win me over, and those we had in abundance. Tenor Dimitri Pittas, a late replacement for ailing tenor Christopher Tiesi, was a charming Nemorino. The role fits him like a glove vocally, and he easily adopted the persona of the naive but not dumb peasant. Mr. Pittas performed the role in this production at Sante Fe in 2009, with Opera Philadelphia Music Director Corrado Rivaris conducting and Stephen Lawless directing, and garnered high praise there--Opera News opined, "His Nemorino was no illiterate klutz but a young man who, with delightful spontaneity, is discovering the joys and woes life has to offer. "

Kevin Burdette as Dulcamara and Sarah Shafer as Adina
Photo:  Opera Philadelphia As Adina Sarah Shafer was a delight. With just the right vocal weight and tone for the role--I've always believed a good Adina would also be a good Blondchen and a great Susanna--she charmed the audience with her opening aria about the story of Tristan and Isotta (Isolde), and had them in the palm of her hand with "Prendi, per me sei libero." A well handled "Prendi" always makes this hardened cynic shed a tear, and I must say I wasn't disappointed.

I've praised Kevin Burdette highly before, and my faith in his talents and ability to win an audience has not wavered one bit. As Dulcamara, snake oil salesman extraordinaire, Mr. Burdette was slimy and unsavory while still remaining somehow lovable. Of course, his singing was just as skillful as that of his cast mates. Craig Verm as Belcore was delightfully smarmy and self-involved, showing just enough of Belcore's vulnerability to allow us to like him while we're cheering on his rival.

Corrado Rivaris held the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra together with the spritely tempi we have come to expect from him, with only one or two spots where there seemed a lack of togetherness between pit, chorus, and principals. My only complaint about the Opera Philadelphia Chorus, which I've made before, is that it needs to be bigger. As I mentioned, director Stephen Lawless was full of clever ideas, but I'm not sure the case was made for the update in setting. The fact that these events could have occurred in the new time frame as easily as the original is not reason enough to my perhaps too traditional mind.

Minor qualms aside, I call this a successful production. I hope all the remaining performances are sold out and many, many audience members come away remembering happy tunes and beautiful singing.

Also, a shout-out of congratulations to Opera Philadelphia for their 2016 International Opera Awards nomination as Best Opera Company, putting them in the highly esteemed company of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Theater an der Wien, Welsh National Opera, and others.