Elixir of Love the Perfect Prescription for Your Problems


As usual, this will not be a straight up review for me. One reason I like our approach is that however objective one tries to be when reviewing a creative work, there is no way to completely divorce yourself from the equation. If art and communication is a triangle with the sender, message and receiver as the three corners, it doesn’t do much good to pretend the receiver isn’t bringing a ton of baggage to the proceedings.

And as we drove to the Ordway on Thursday night for the last dress rehearsal of The Elixir of Love by Gaetano Donizetti, Becky called her dad to check in. He has the flu now and isn’t allowed to visit his wife in the hospital for a week. Becky and I discussed going up to Fargo to visit her. She then called the place her mother is staying at to do physical therapy and get her strength back. She asked to speak to her mother. Room 200. Please.

The person on the phone said her mother had been rushed by ambulance to another hospital because of internal bleeding and that her mother is in the ICU.

That’s ALL the info she got.

Your mom isn’t here. And she’s bleeding internally.

What the heck is that crap?

So Becky starts making frantic phone calls. She calls her flu-ridden father to tell him something is going on with his wife, that’s she’s in the ICU, but not to worry, yet. We need to stay calm and wait until she can get more answers. No daughter should have to answer the question, “Is my wife going to die?”

Eventually Becky got a hold of her grandmother, who had been with her mother the whole time, but after not being successful getting her father on the phone, didn’t call anyone else. So after 40 minutes of sheer panic, we learned internal bleeding may not be as scary as we thought, that she’s going to get checked the next day, so they must not have been worried enough to get it tested ASAP.

Becky and I conferred. There was nothing we could do. We couldn’t drive to Fargo. We couldn’t fix it. All we could do was wait for the test results the next day. (Which, as it is the next day, turns out she’s going to be ok.)

All this is to say we entered the Ordway having been drenched in an unexpected tidal wave of fear, anger, dread, anxiety, guilt and worry. Not the ideal place to start an evening with the Minnesota Opera.

Luckily, this production of The Elixir of Love was the exact medicine (see what I did there? I don’t promise that’s the last one of those!) we needed to recover and remember that there are some good things still happening. If you like beauty, love, Italian language, fun staging, awesome costumes, and the kind of music that’s what you hope to hear when someone says opera, then this is the event for you.  For 3 hours, Becky and I were able to put the health issues, the job hunt, the overall uggggness of this winter away and lose ourselves in the Italian countryside on a bright summer day, basking in the unfettered love quest unfolding before us.

Nicole Cabell as Adina and Leonardo Capalbo as Nemorino in the Minnesota Opera production of The Elixir of Love.
Nicole Cabell as Adina and Leonardo Capalbo as Nemorino in the Minnesota Opera production of The Elixir of Love. © 2015 Michal Daniel for Minnesota Opera

I can’t say I recognized any of the songs from this Opera, which is odd as it is one of the most performed shows still today. The individual tunes don’t appear to be in the pop culture consciousness. Though one aria does appear on pretty much every tenor’s “best of” CDs. I’m not saying this as a reason for either liking or disliking this opera, just that it’s surprising to me that nothing was recognizable to Becky or me.

The story is one of the “A stranger arrives” type. Boy loves aloof girl. Snake Oil salesman comes to town, sells boy love potion. Boy hopes it kicks in before girl marries an even more aloof General. The two act structure sets up all this in the first act. The second act sees all these elements pay off in fantastic, often comical, ways. The second act really makes this show a delight to experience.The MN Opera does a neat video of each show’s plot in 60 seconds:

Highlights for me:

  • The General enters, preening and ego surrounding him like a cloud, hamming it up perfectly.
  • He’s soon out-hammed (in all the best ways!) by the doctor, who comes in dressed like a 1920’s motorist in a fantabulously flashy suit. (Played by Andrew Wilkowske, who we first noticed as the incredible comic Papagino in last season’s The Magic Flute, which was the best thing we saw all year anywhere.)
  • Nemorino, the main character played by Leonardo Capalbo, pretty much gets lost in this first act with all the commotion and delightful eccentrics around him, but how he soars in act II. His  rendition of “Una Furtiva Lagrima,” a song that comes after seeing the love of his life finally show signs of loving him back, was superbly spine chilling. For the last lines, the orchestra goes silent as if even the accompaniment can’t support the overwhelming love pouring out of Nemorino. Becky and I were cuddling like a pile of teddy bears.

  • Duets galore. Pretty much any time two characters get together in this play, you are guaranteed a delightful masterclass of awesomesauce interplay, especially if the Doctor is one of those two.
  • The General’s reaction to Adina dumping him – priceless and perfect.

I’m not sure what it is with opera male characters falling for rather horrible women. Adina, played here by Nicole Cabell, is flighty and capricious, she says, and doesn’t want to be with just one person yet. Then 10 minutes later she’s engaged to ONE GUY. I’m not sure what to make of her, but, as horrible women go in the operas Becky and I have attended, she’s not nearly as bad as others. Turandot’s main character beheads anyone who dares to want to marry her and promises to murder everyone if the prince doesn’t reveal his name. Yet he STILL wants her! In The Magic Flute, the prince falls in love with the daughter of the Queen of the Night, an unrelenting jerk of a lady. And do I really need to bring up Lady Macbeth?

Seriously, no matter what sort of horrible day you are having, this opera is a panacea (I did it again!) to get lost in and forget your problems, even if only for a few hours.

Andrew Wilkowske as Dr. Dulcamara in the Minnesota Opera production of The Elixir of Love. Music by Gaetano Donizetti Libretto by Felice Romani  After Eugène Scribe’s text for the opera Le philter by Daniel-François-Esprit Auber (1831) World Premiere at the Teatro Cannobiana, Milan, May 12, 1832 Creative Team Conductor – Leonardo Vordoni Stage Director – Helena Binder Lighting Designer and Scenic Coordinator – Marcus Dilliard Costume Designer – Martin Pakledinaz   The Cast Giannetta – Shannon Prickett Nemorino – Leonardo Capalbo Adina – Nicole Cabell Belcore – David Pershall Dr. Dulcamara – Andrew Wilkowske
Andrew Wilkowske as Dr. Dulcamara in the Minnesota Opera production of The Elixir of Love. © 2015 Michal Daniel for Minnesota Opera

Next up for the MN Opera is The Manchurian Candidate. I can’t wait to see an operatic take on one of my favorite movies. The mother in that movie, played by Angela Lansbury, is one of my favorite performances of all time. And another horrible lady, come to think of it.

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