Honoring--and Learning From--Ellen Willis « PREV | NEXT »: Collected Stories

April 4, 2011

Magic Potion

The only other time I ever saw Donizetti's "Elixir of Love" was years ago at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, and the tenor--a wonderfully talented local boy--brought down the house with his second-act solo. This time, at the New York City Opera, the same thing happened: the entire action ground to halt while the audience roared its wild approval. And this time I realized that the effect, though highly dependent on the skills of the individual tenor, is actually built into the opera.

In the version that is now running at NYCO, directed by Jonathan Miller, all five principals are terrific in their parts, but David Lomelí, a young Mexican tenor, is especially outstanding as the awkward, dopey, but finally triumphant Nemorino.  He starts out fidgety and pathetic, a guy who will clearly never get the girl he loves, the beautiful Aldina (here played by the charming Stefania Dovhan as a Marilyn-Monroe-lookalike who owns the local diner). But by middle of the second act he has gained new confidence through drinking a love potion supplied to him by a passing quack (the brilliant Marco Nisticò) -- and in fact by this time Aldina has indeed fallen in love with him, largely as a result of his new-found self-confidence. Just after accurately perceiving her change of heart, Nemorino gets a moment alone onstage to express his delight that she finally loves him, and it is this solo that stops the show.

It's not just that the music itself is piercingly beautiful, nor that Lomelí sings it with incredible tenderness and grace.  It's also that this character, for whom we've secretly rooted but whom we've also slightly despised for his stupidity and his clumsiness and his unthinkingly dog-like devotion, now turns out to be a man with a terrific voice.  So we fall in love with him, too, and it helps make sense of Aldina's rapid conversion.

I can't get over how clever it was of Donizetti to save up this secret weapon for the second act.  Handel, having discovered how to write that beautifully, would have used his discovery over and over (and in fact he did exactly that, note for note, in opera after opera). Mozart, the king of the beautiful, would have been unable to hold off his firepower to the second half of the show; he would have insisted on letting us know from the beginning how great his compositional powers were.  But Donizetti was a stage person above all:  he knew just how to save up the best for exactly the right moment.  And the result is magic.
April 4, 2011 8:41 AM | | Comments (2)

2 Comments

Just so you're aware, this version of Elixir is Jonathan Miller's production, but it was directed by A. Scott Parry.

Duly noted. Thanks for pointing this out.

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