Review: Opera Theatre's 'The Elixir of Love' is a Tasty Treat

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

Donizetti’s Opera Buffa, “The Elixir of Love (L’elisir d’amore),” currently playing at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, might have a common plot—boy woes girl; girl rebuffs boy; boy eventually gets girl—but this production is anything but common. From the opening moments to the final satisfactory and heartwarming conclusion, everything about it captivates, from the charming set to the delightful performances. To say it is flawless does not exaggerate.

Rene Barbera and Suzannah Biller Photo by Ken Howard

Rene Barbera and Susannah Biller
Photo by Ken Howard

Originally set in a small village in the Basque Country at the end of the 18th century, this Americanized version takes place in a small American town around 1914, just prior to WWI. The set is adorned with an ornamental bandstand with red, white and blue bunting, with a glorious painted backdrop of bucolic, rolling American countryside in the style of Grant Wood. Onto this pastoral scene will come throngs of townfolk—the ladies elegantly and colorfully dressed, and gentlemen who personify the word dapper—in addition to the sometimes addition of an ice cream truck and a motorcycle with sidecar, both of which drive onto the stage much to the delight of the audience.

Rene Barbera  Photo by Ken Howard

Rene Barbera
Photo by Ken Howard

All of the artists possess the beautiful voices for the bel canto, or “beautiful style,” the opera requires. Rene Barbera—with his clean, award-winning tenor voice—plays ice cream man and lovesick suitor Nemorino to perfection, while the object of his affection, the town librarian Adina, portrayed by Susannah Biller (in her OTSL debut), is the perfect embodiment of grace and charm as the town queen bee. Barbera appeared in “Daughter of the Regiment” at OTSL in 2011 and has since grown in experience and stature, and it shows. His high notes come easily, and he can move the audience with his vocal tenderness. For her part, Biller matches him perfectly and manages to embody her character with complete believability.

Rene Barbera, Tim Mix, and Suzannah Biller Photo by Ken Howard

Rene Barbera, Tim Mix, and Susannah Biller
Photo by Ken Howard

Baritone Tim Mix as egotistical, “cock of the walk,” Belcore—the soldier whom Adina flirts with and nearly marries—struts about the stage in a most amusing portrayal which reminds one of Will Ferrell if he could sing opera. Bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi as a Dulcamara the snake-oil salesman (oops, I mean elixir) arrives and departs on the sidecar motorcycle and plays his part with great panache. Similarly, Adina’s confidant and town busybody Giannetta is played by the stunning and delightful soprano Leela Subramaniam.

Patrick Carfizzi (center, in purple) Photo by Ken Howard

Patrick Carfizzi (center, in purple)
Photo by Ken Howard

The St. Louis Symphony was conducted knowledgeably by OTSL music director Stephen Lord, who was named one of the “25 Most Powerful Names in U.S. Opera” by Opera News. Director Jose Maria Condemi keeps the story humming along and expertly stages the large cast, while the costumes designed by the late Martin Pakledinaz—with the ladies’ elegant dresses in ice cream colors—were carried out by costume coordinator Amanda Seymour. Michael Chybowski created the time of day effectively.

This is one elixir that opera lovers—or even those that don’t think they like opera—must drink.

“The Elixir of Love” continues at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in repertory through June 28. For tickets and information, visit the OTSL website.

Follow Christopher Reilly on Twitter @ChristoReilly

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