The singing was so strong and supple throughout the Metropolitan Opera 's opening night production of Gaetano Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore that the traditional look of Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher's new production, which might have disappointed patrons hoping for something more innovative, proved to be a negligible factor.
Even in a lesser production, there's no missing the fun Donizetti had writing his mostly jaunty melodies, with several stops along the way for his protagonist Nemorino (Matthew Polenzani) to express his longing for the fickle Adina (Anna Netrebko).
There's also no missing the amusement Donizetti and librettist Felice Romani had divvying up those irresistible tunes into solos, duets, trios and quartets of clever combinations for the main characters. So as the story of Nemorino's belief that he's imbibed a love potion — sold to him by the ebullient Doctor Dulcamara (Ambrogio Maestri) – goes on, Nemorino, Adina, her best friend Giannetta (Anne-Carolyn Bird), Dulcamara, and strutting Sergeant Belcore (Mariusz Kwiecien) are often chanting the most beautiful contrapuntal riffs against each other. And they're all tidily guided here by conductor Maurizio Benini.
Since Donizetti supplies so many chances to shine, and since the cast members — often prompted broadly by Sher— eagerly grab them, highlights too numerous to list abound in this version. Among the strongest are when Nemorino thinks he's flying high after swallowing the phony elixir, while Dulcamara considers Nemorino merely stupid, as well as the mock barcarole Adina shares with Dulcamara, in which Maestri dispenses silly sibilant sounds as a supposedly three-toothed senator.
While Netrebko was tentative only once or twice on a note and Polenzani's acting was a trifle stiff at the outset, the pair turned almost everything they sang into gold and silver, especially their hot-hot declaration scene, when she grabs him and he sinks to his knee exclaiming "Gioia." And the tender beauty of Polenzani's "Una furtiva lagrima" was probably the highest of the highlights.
While the physical production may not be at all shocking in its originality, Sher and his creative team have put together a lovely production, from designer Michael Yeargan's Italian countryside, radiant under Jennifer Tipton's lighting, to the flowing second-act costumes into which Catherine Zuber puts slim-waisted Netrebko, Bird, and the women's chorus.
It's rather hard to believe that Donizetti turned his opus out in something like three weeks (and also did the orchestrations), given the deliciousness on display. Wow!