Story: It’s 1942, and the United States has recently entered World War II. Life on The Hill in St. Louis, though, goes on in many ways as before. The residents shop at Volpi’s for Italian food staples, visit DiGregorio’s or Dominic’s and generally gather in the town square, with St. Ambrose Catholic Church dominating the area’s skyline.
A simple delivery man named Nemorino plies his trade while pining for the love of the wealthy Adina. Overhearing her reading the story of Tristan and Isolde and how Isolde fell in love with Tristan after drinking a magic potion, he determines to do the very same.
When a traveling salesman and magician named “Dr.” Dulcamara arrives in town, Nemorino is bedazzled by an “elixir” sold by Dulcamara, which the con artist claims has magical powers but in reality is cheap wine. The magician then sells a bottle to the earnest Nemerino at a tidy profit.
Also visiting is a cocky Army sergeant named Belcore, who takes an immediate liking to Adina. He puts his charms into high gear and quickly asks Adina if she’ll marry him. She’s not interested in that, just as she wasn’t interested in Nemorino’s sincere approach.
When Nemorino consumes the elixir, he relaxes in his drunken state, making him suddenly more appealing to Adina. Waiting for the ‘magic potion’ to take full effect the next day, he ignores Adina, which in turn incites her to accept Belcore’s proposal. The wedding is then moved up to that evening because of Belcore’s unexpected early departure with the Army.
Frantic to reach Adina before she marries, Nemorino is in need of another tonic from Dulcamara, but the magician insists on money up front. Belcore learns of Nemorino’s romantic plight (not knowing it involves Adina) and signs him to a military contract which carries an immediate bonus.
Unknown to Nemorino, his rich uncle has just passed away, making him suddenly quite the ‘catch’ to the local women. Seeing him pursued by these ladies, Adina realizes she truly loves him and they reunite. Dulcamara decides that his ‘elixir’ really does work and determines to sell even more with this newfound ‘evidence.’
Highlights: Winter Opera St. Louis closes its 2017-18 season with a fun-filled rendition of this perennially popular comic opera composed by Gaetano Donizetti.
Other Info: Scenic designer Scott Loebl and Winter Opera smartly move the setting for Donizetti’s two-act opera from the Basque country in 18th century Europe to The Hill during World War II.
This allows for some clever and familiar signs to populate the set, including Volpi’s and DiGregorio as well as a rendering of St. Ambrose Catholic Church in the background. There’s also a tidy brick house at stage left, a plaza and plenty of area for the residents to congregate.
Natali Arco adds a fine lighting design and JC Krajicek adorns the players in some imaginative costumes, including a flowing lavender cape for the scheming but oafish Dulcamara and period dresses for the women. Laura Skroska provides some well-appointed props, including a floating checkers game, while Jessica Dana adds wigs which reflect hair designs of the era.
Composed by Donizetti and featuring a libretto by Felice Romani, The Elixir of Love has been an audience favorite since its premiere in 1832. It’s easy to see why. The music is light and spirited, especially when given such a splendid reading by the Winter Opera orchestra under the smart, stylish conducting of Darwin Aquino, who keeps the tempo brisk and upbeat throughout.
Stage director Audrey Chait does solid work moving the large ensemble consistently across the wide Viragh stage, keeping the show looking organized and never cluttered and also smoothly paced. Chorus master and collaborative pianist Nancy Mayo elicits strong and polished performances from the ensemble who support the quartet of major players.
Tenor Peter Scott Drackley delivers Nemorino’s sincere arias in entertaining fashion and does a fine job acting the role as well. Winter Opera’s general director Gina Galati demonstrates her excellent soprano as the complicated Adina, whose love appears to change regularly on a whim but who decides, in keeping with the opera's comic construction, that she has found true love with Nemorino.
Christopher Holloway puts his baritone to fine use as the swaggering Belcore, a quasi-villain who is more or less agreeable with his lost romance because he’s, well, handsome and never lacking for female companionship, just ask him. Holloway nicely handles the heavy comedy in Belcore’s portrayal.
As Dulcamara, lanky Andrew Potter chews up the scenery in the finest Snidely Whiplash fashion, fighting his rebellious cape while picking the pockets of his latest batch of rubes. Potter’s bass voice is amusing as well in his vocal numbers. Karen Kanakis does well as Adina’s faithful friend, Giannetta, who seems to be the go-to person for any and all news happening around The Hill.
L’elisir d’Amore drags a little near the end of the second act when it temporarily gets a little too serious. Mostly, though, it’s an elixir of comedy and spirited music guaranteed to send one home smiling and humming a happy tune.
Opera: L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love)
Group: Winter Opera St. Louis
Venue: Skip Viragh Center for Performing Arts, Chaminade College Preparatory School, 425 South Lindbergh
Dates: March 9 at 7:30 p.m., March 11 at 3 p.m.
Tickets: $35-$55; contact 865-0038 or winteroperastl.org
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5 (at a dress rehearsal performance)
Photos courtesy of Wylde Brothers Photography