La Scena Musicale

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Wacky L'elisir d'amore at the Munich Opera Festival

A space ship? No, it's Dr. Dulcamara's vehicle - the funny David Boesch's L'elisir d'amore at the Munich Opera festival

This delightfully wacky L'elisir d'amore premiered at the Bavarian State Opera in December 2009. Most of the cast are back for this year's Munich Opera Festival revival - Georgian soprano Nino Machaidze as Adina, the imposing Ambrogio Maestri as Dr. Dulcamara, and Fabio Maria Capitanucci as a macho Belcore. Even the conductor remained the same - Juraj Vallcuha. The only change last night was in the Nemorino himself. Italian tenor Giuseppe Filianoti, the Nemorino last December, is supposed to be replaced by Mexican tenor Rolando Villazon, who of course is famous in this role. After vocal cord surgery in spring of 2009, Villazon chose Nemorino to make his return this past March, in the friendly confines of the Wiener Staatsoper, where he has had many big successes.

Yesterday was supposed to be his return to Munich after cancelling Werther last July. When it was announced by someone in front of the curtain that Villazon was suffering from a stomach infection and was unable to sing, it was greeted with isolated but quite insistent boos. When it was announced that his replacement was Slovak tenor Pavol Breslik, there was a round of applause. Breslik of course was the Gennaro in last summer's Munich Lucrezia Borgia starring fellow Slovak, the evergreen diva Edita Gruberova. Breslik was excellent as Gennaro, in a rather far-out production that I admit I am not very fond of. This wouldn't be the first time he has replaced Villazon, and it was clear from the first note that Breslik was a most worthy replacement Nemorino. He brought a Mozartian quality to his singing of Nemorino, with a bright, pingy, and agile sound. Being youthful and possessing a good figure also helped. There was a great deal of physical acting - ie, stage antics - in this show, perhaps designed specifically for Villazon. Breslik was able to carry out all the physical requirements, including singing "Una furtiva lagrima" hanging precariously off a lampost 15 feet above ground! As if that wasn't enough, Breslik also spent extended minutes in his underwear frolicking with the adoring village girls. It takes a lot of nerves (and self confidence over one's body) to do that convincingly, and traditionally singers as a group aren't too comfortable with their body. As a last minute replacement, Breslik cannot be faulted in his performance. But I find that I missed the Chaplinesque qualities in Villazon. Breslik, for all his qualities, lacked pathos in his big aria. But the majority of the audience probably didn't agree with me as they gave him a huge ovation. Stage director David Boesch, new to opera, has scored a success with this production. He treats L'elisir as a complete fantasy, which it is! The location is indeterminate but it doesn't really matter. There were plenty of whimsical or downright silly sight gags, fireworks, sprinkling of the "elixir", you name it. The Adina was Georgian soprano Nino Machaidze who leaped to fame as Juliette opposite Villazon in Salzburg, a replacement for Anna Netrebko. She has quite a large voice for Adina, and rather steely at the top, where she sometimes go sharp. But overall she sang and acted well, as did Maestri (a visually hilarious Dulcamara) and Capitanucci (a rather understated Belcore).

There are two more performances of L'elisir during the waning days of the Munich Opera Festival, and its remains to be seen if Villazon will sing any of them. There is a rumour floating around that he has cancelled the whole run, as well as the Covent Garden Werther next May. I hope this is not true.

UPDATE: In Rolando Villazon's website , the tenor apologizes to his fans for cancelling the two performances of L'elisir, the second one is this evening. He still hopes to sing the third and last performance on July 27. I wish him a speedy recovery.

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