Sunday, October 14, 2012

Met HD Elisir

Elevator pitch: town drunk stalks wealthy landowner.  She flics him off until she learns that he just inherited a bunch of money, at which point she flics him on again.

You buyin'?  Well, audiences buy: that's the plot of Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore, constantly in the repertoire since it opened in 1832, now 13th on the Operabase list of most-performed operas.   Granting that opera plots never make much sense, you will surmise that I don't quite get it.  I'll agree that there's a lot of mighty purty music, though.

The Met used Elisire as sits season opener a couple of weeks back, and as the opener for its HD season yesterday.   We caught the Palookaville avatar.  It's  new production and I gather not everyone was impressed.  I can see where the critics are going on this one: it's certainly not a production for purists.  Bart Sher, falling victim to the familiar directorial impulse to Make his Mark, has sandblasted away some of the innocence and given it all a darker edge.  There's a loss here:  as the other man, the thoroughly amiable Mariusz Kwiecien comes across as a boor (as the rejected suitor): he loses the comedy without any obvious compensation (chalk the fault up to Sher, not Kwiecien).    As diva, Anna Netrebko did what Anna Netrebko does.  But both performances more or less cleared the way Matthew Polenzani as the guileless young swain.  I heard Sher at the break mutter something about his "poetry" but that's a distraction: he's just a love-struck kid and (though he is three years older than Netrebko) I think he nailed it.

There's been a fair amount of buzz about the sets.  Cognoscenti keep nattering on about the inspiration of Oliver Messel, the ballet designer, but the reference is likely to be lost on the average opera viewer/listener.  For me, a more direct reference might be those racks of engravings that street vendors used to offer in Rome, as a small flicker of immortality for the passing tourist.  Whatever modernism there may have been in Sher's interpretation, the staging provided an almost eerie counterpoint that cast everything in context and made sure you didn't take any of it too seriously.

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