Love Always Wins: L’elisir d’amore at the Gran Teatre del Liceu

Donizetti – L’elisir d’amore

Adina – Jessica Pratt
Nemorino – Pavol Breslik
Belcore – Paolo Bordogna
Dulcamara – Roberto de Candia
Giannetta – Mercedes Gancedo

Cor del Gran Teatre del Liceu, Orquestra Simfònica del Gran Teatre del Liceu / Ramón Tebar.
Stage director – Mario Gas.

Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, Catalonia.  Sunday, January 7th, 2018.

Some Italian warmth was certainly welcome on this grey, rainy January afternoon in the eternally beautiful Catalan capital.  Mario Gas’ production of l’elisir d’amore has its origins in a production premiered at the Teatre Grec back in 1983.  Over the years it has been redesigned and rebuilt, with the sets used this evening made for the run in 2005.  Gas returned to direct this new cast.  This is clearly a production that has had a long gestation and a long history at the Liceu.

Photo: © Antoni Bofill

I start with these thoughts as it struck me that Gas’ staging is very much of another age.  An age where the principals just faced the front and delivered and likewise the chorus stood facing the front declaiming their music.  Set in the Italy of the fascist period – the old Italian flag was seen in Act 2 – this is a theme that seems barely explored.  There could have been a deep seam to mine there for the right director, of how to maintain love within a fascist state, yet here it seemed to have been an afterthought.  Belcore was congenial rather than threatening, for example.  Instead, what we get is sheer escapism and the celebration of a life-affirming work.  There are some nice ideas – the reprise of Dulcamara’s closing number after the final curtain with Dulcamara entering in the auditorium and his minions handing out elixirs; or the opening of Act 2, with the orchestra playing out of tune until the maestro leaves the onstage wedding party to return to the pit and start the act proper.  Far too often, however, the principals and chorus were parked at the front, barely looking and barely relating to one another.  There were also issues with the blocking, with characters at times being obscured due to the location of others on stage.

Photo: © Antoni Bofill

Pavol Breslik’s Nemorino used the standing and delivering to his benefit.  His was a very introvert Nemorino, one who used his awkwardness and inability to look at Adina, to the benefit of the creation of his character.  He was wonderfully gauche and goofy and was also capable of real tenderness and love, nowhere more so than in an ‘una furtiva lagrima’ of almost unbearable generosity and beauty.  His breath control was staggering – phrases that so many before him have had to chop up, he sang in seemingly endless lines.  His legato was impeccable and his light, lyric tenor had genuine charm to spare.  His ability to pull out a splendid messa di voce was spellbinding.  Breslik is a natural stage animal and lit up the stage whenever he appeared.

Photo: © Antoni Bofill

Jessica Pratt’s Adina proved that she has all of the necessary bel canto tools at her disposal: a genuine trill, impeccable coloratura, an ability to float phrases on the breath – she certainly has an impressive technique.  She even gave us some stratospheric embellishments that were received with glee by a number of gentlemen in the audience.  It’s a full and rounded soprano and undeniably impressive.  Yet, I wasn’t completely won over by her Adina.  The vibrations have a very slight tendency to become uneven at the very top and her Italian has a slight Anglophone flavour.  She played the determined Adina fully and while she did shade the tone more as the evening progressed, I left wondering whether she is as yet able to fully exploit the range of colours in the voice.  Pratt is, however, an impressive talent.

Photo: © Antoni Bofill

Paolo Bordogna’s Belcore certainly had swagger but it did take him a little while to warm up.  His opening ‘come Paride vezzoso’ suggested an unannounced indisposition with tight, grainy tone and a lumpy aspirate-filled legato.  He did warm up nicely though and turned the corners splendidly in his Act 2 duet with Nemorino.  His native diction gave a great deal of pleasure.  It may well have been first night nerves, of course, and things may very well settle during the course of the rest of the run.  Similarly, Roberto de Candia’s Dulcamara was also sung off the text in a rustic bass-baritone.  He also lit up the stage whenever he appeared, with terrific comic timing, even adding in a couple of words of Catalan into his entrance aria.  He looked like he was having the time of his life and that energy filled the theatre with waves of good humour.  I was also especially impressed by Mercedes Gancedo’s Giannetta.  This is a very promising voice – bright, attractive and well-placed, certainly an artist I would like to hear again.

Photo: © Antoni Bofill

Ramón Tebar’s conducting felt driven rather than swift, efficient rather than lilting.  He succeeded in keeping his forces together, although attack at times was a bit ragged – inevitable perhaps on a first night.  He was also unafraid to pull back where necessary, allowing Breslik in particular to give his ‘furtiva lagrima’ precisely the improvisatory beauty it needed.  I have been coming to this house for over a decade now and continue to be impressed by the constant improvement in the house forces.  The orchestra played very well for him – the solo horn and bassoon especially distinctive.  The brass were on their best behaviour and string intonation was spot on.  Conxita Garcia’s chorus sang with tight ensemble and excellent blend, no individual voices sticking out.

Photo: © Antoni Bofill

This was a somewhat mixed evening but I left the theatre absolutely uplifted because above all, this was a true ensemble show.  All of the performances from the principals were nothing short of honourable and frequently much, much more than that.  The audience absolutely loved it – giving the entire cast a generous ovation.  Yet, for me what will stay in the mind is how Breslik managed to map his character’s journey through his acting and through his vocalism – making us want to root for Nemorino and celebrate in his joy when he finally got the girl.  Certainly, an excellent way to start the operatic year.

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