What a comfort to the farmer when the sun is hotly shining in the shade to be reclining when the heat is so intense! ‘Gainst the sun the tree is armor, and the stream so coolly flowing; but when fires of passion are glowing there’s no shade nor stream prevents. –Bel conforto al mietitore
I love this time of year in St. Paul. The winter carnival, with its traditions of ice sculptures and fire all set with the back drop of, what I deem, the most beautiful block in St. Paul. Rice Park lit up with thousands of lights surrounded by the St. Paul Hotel, the ice skating rink, The Landmark Center, and the Ordway. The people of the Twin Cities stand outside in January, shivering, as people show their ice carving craft, as if to say, “Winter, you will not hold us down!”
Fully aware of the Winter Carnival Tradition, the Minnesota Opera is performing The Elixir of Love at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts during the Carnival: January 24 – February 1, because there is no better way to shout out “Winter, you have no hold on us!” than inviting the performance goer to a sun-drenched day in Tuscany.
As Act 1 opens to view Adina’s Farm set in 19th century Italy, the stage lights up, and I was amazed at how the Scenic Coordinator and Lighting Designer, Marcus Dillard was able to give me more Vitamin D from the brightly lit stage than I’ve had in months.The stage is full of plants and the chorus emerges full of exuberance. They are fanning themselves and drinking lemonade, all while singing that it is better to be hot from the sun than have a fever from love.
The costumes, designed by Martin Pakledinaz, along with the scenery, were nothing short of brilliant. Through the costumes in the first scene, one is able to understand the class system instantly. I loved the 19th century costumes of the upper class sitting at tables being served refreshments. This upper class, which includes Adina, played by Nicole Cabell are obviously enjoying their leisure, to the point where we are watching Adina sitting on the stairs reading.
On the other side, we see the farm workers and marketplace shop workers, dressed in servant garb. They are only taking a moment from their work to rest. This is where we see the genius of the stage direction combined with the genius of the costuming. Nemorino, our hero, played by Leonardo Capalbo, appears on stage and blends in with the chorus, both in his costume, and pushing his vegetable cart. The only time during Act 1 Nemorino stands out from the crowd of the lower class is when he is on stage singing a solo or duet. The other brilliant use of costumes is that all of the members of the village, even our hero and heroine, blend into the background when the soldiers arrive. They appear with the arrogant sergeant, Belcore, played by David Pershall.
The audience has Belcore pegged from his entrance and first words to Adina. As he hands her a flower, which is already half dead:
Handsome Paris, in the story gave the apple for the best beauty, so, my charming village cutie, I have brought you this bouquet. But as I have much more glory, my reward shall be more pleasant for my payment of my present, for in payment of my present, I shall take your heart away. — Marziale – Come Paride vezzoso
Okay, because he hands her a half dead flower, AND he has so much glory, of course she will give him her heart. The fact it never occurs to him that she could say no, demonstrates exactly what kind of player we are dealing with here. But sure enough, she is willing to marry Belcore not even 2 scenes later.
But don’t despair, our attention is soon drawn to Dr. Dulcamara, who steals the remainder of Act 1. His costume is brilliant as he is dressed like a 1920’s motorist in a dark royal zoot suit.
In another brilliant act of costuming, you can see how he stands out from the obvious villagers gathering behind him. In the below scene, you can see how he is able to have complete control over both the villagers, as well as the audience. The suit and his demeanor makes it impossible to take your eyes off of him for the remainder of Act 1.
This is your perfect remedy, miraculously potent to rid you of all lice or mice or any other rodent, Effective, beneficial, authentic and official. . .You matrons of mature appeal, Does growing old depress you? This tonic will eradicate the wrinkles that distress you. Young ladies, are you dreaming of skin like satin gleaming? Young men increase your chances for plentiful romances! Just buy my magic medicine! –Udite, udite, o rustici
Think of how many ads for cosmetics you’ve seen lately that promise the very same thing! The key, however, is the engaging, entertaining and brilliant performance by Andrew Wilkowske, whom 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.
By the end of Act 1, Adina is engaged to Belcore and Dr. Dulcamara has sold Nemorino the potion which will make Adina fall in love with him:
As we begin Act 2, there is a subtle change in stage direction by Helena Binder that makes the entire Act captivating. Suddenly, it’s as if the potion worked, not because of the story, but because of the staging. While Nemorino suddenly becomes a millionaire due to his uncle’s death, he has no knowledge of this information. The local women rush him forcing jealousy into Adina. Very soon, however, the crowds around Nemorino dissipate and all the viewer sees is Nemorino. He is no longer a simple member of the village, but a man brought forth. He outshines Belcore and Dr. Dulcamara, he steals both Adina’s heart and the audience members as well. I’m sure educated opera goers would argue that it is because of his show stealing performance of Una furtiva lagrima seen below, I would like to argue, Nemorino, becomes our hero because the staging has encouraged us to see him as such. Gone is his push cart of vegetables, and here stands a man, a strong man, in love, and front and center.
I wish not to ruin the ending for you, but I will say this, once the villagers see what the elixir has done to Nemorino, of course, the Dr. will not miss an opportunity like this one.
They line up behind him to purchase the elixir that they believe will make them rich and loved. But, in reality, all they need is the genius of staging, costumes, and lighting design, to achieve all of these things in real life.
In conclusion, I say GO to The Elixir of Love. You will feel amazing when you leave. You will be able to walk amongst the ice sculptures outside with a sunny song in your heart. You will be able to scream and shake your fist at the heavens: “Winter, you will not get me down!” And, most importantly, you will receive your daily intake requirement of Vitamin D!