The Elixir of Love is wine

Gaetano Donizetti’s 1832 opera The Elixir of Love opened last week at the Benedum Center in a performance by the Pittsburgh Opera. Donizetti’s opera follows a lower-class man named Nemorino and his attempts to woo the educated Adina. Nemorino suffers an initial setback when soldiers come through town; the sergeant Belcore proposes to Adina and, despite his egotism, she accepts.

Heartbroken, Nemorino approaches the quack Dr. Dulcamara, who has arrived in town to sell his miracle cures. He begs Dulcamara for a love potion like the one in a story Adina told him, offering all the money he has. The greedy doctor gives Nemorino a bottle of wine, which he claims will make women find him irresistible. Drinking heavily, Nemorino runs into Adina, who is upset to see that he is no longer obsessed with her. That night, Belcore asks Adina to marry him right away, because he will be shipping out the next morning with his men. Adina agrees to expedite the wedding, and a devastated Nemorino doesn’t know what to do.

The opera’s strongest performers were Elizabeth Futral (Adina) and Kevin Glavin (Dulcamara). At the end of Friday night’s performance, Futral received the strongest applause from the audience, with good reason. Not only did her voice convey the varying emotions of her conflicted character, but her acting carried scenes when her co-stars could not. John Nuzzo, starring as Nemorino, sung well, but his acting often came across as too broad for the plot of the play. Some of Nemorino’s more humorous actions, like getting drunk off the wine he believes to be the titular elixir, were funny without being slapstick. However, Nuzzo (who from the audience vaguely resembles Erik Estrada in costume) sometimes went over the top, like when his character accidentally hit Belcore in the groin during a fight; such blatant attempts robs these moments of their humor.

In the second act, Nemorino returns to Dulcamara looking for more of the love potion, but is unable to afford it. Dulcamara is the funniest character of the opera, with garish outfits, flustered assistant, and outlandish selling technique. After finally finding the money to buy more of the powerful elixir, Nemorino happily gets drunk a second time on the advice of the doctor.

The Elixir of Love suffered from a disconnect between the dialogue of the play and its setting: While the entirety of the opera was spoken in Italian (with English subtitles shown above the stage), the opera was adapted to America before World War I. The shift from an opera set in the Italian countryside to one set in middle America is successful and even elegant; but the subtitles sometimes distracted from the action of the characters. At times, it was obvious that the subtitles were not direct translations, and sometimes the text read like how a Valley Girl would talk, marked with words like “totally.” Overall, the idea to take the early 19th century play and bring it to the early 20th century is an interesting concept and works in the aspects not dependent on props. However, the image of the dejected Nemorino singing in Italian while sitting on the bandstand, shows a contradiction between the image seen and the music heard. The division between the senses is often artistically successful, though not practical for the audience to watch because it distracts from the subject matter and music at hand.

By the end of The Elixir of Love, the characters have straightened themselves out, even humorously, and all is well. The show may be formulaic for some of today’s audiences, but it still manages to create an interesting atmosphere in this modernization of Donizetti’s classic opera.