This performance of L’Elisir d’amore by Gaetano Donizetti; libretto by Felice Romano was staged by Ludmila Noletova at the Moscow Theater named after Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Memirovich-Danchenko on May 28, 2001.
To most of today’s opera critics in the Western world, performing an opera in two languages in the same production is suspect, almost subversive. Fortunately for the audience gathered at the Moscow Aca demic Music Theater for Gaetano Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore on a May evening in 2001 there were no critical detractors present for this bilingual presentation. On that evening, in that historic theater named after Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, the audience was allowed to enjoy L’Elisir without any bothersome out bursts of disapproval. The production, bordering on the experimental and slightly daring, was carried off with sufficient panache to do away with any misgivings the audience might have had.
This production of L’Elisir, with its recitatives dashed off in Russ ian and the main arias piquantly rolled out in Italian, was so delightful in its approach and so well thought-out by stage director Ludmila Nale tova, that her approach dovetailed smoothly with Donizetti’s gifted mu sical invention and librettist Felice Romani’s deftly humorous text. It became apparent as the performance progressed that the Russian and Italian text, each in its own way, had sparked a descriptive and colorful interpretation filled with tender diminutives highlighting the good-na tured personalities of the comedy’s two main protagonists – the gawky Nemorino and the saucy Adina.
Since the bilingual aspects of the production seemed to present no acting barriers for stage director Naletova and her cast, they were able to project across the footlights the most important elements of opera buffa — laughter through music and skillful pacing in delivery. They created a seamless energy that flowed easily from scene to scene, reach ing its peak in Dulcamara’s entrance aria with its delightfully enticing rhythms accompanied by Naletova’s amusing sight gags.
In opera buffa, both the characters on stage or the spectators in the audience love to be hoodwinked, and Dulcamara’s persona is the clas sic buffa perpetrator of this kind of devilish deception. Dulcamara’s quick-witted cataloguing of the health benefits of his ready-made po tion keeps the villagers spellbound: If only they would buy just one bot tle of his elixir, they would soon discover that among the dozens of cures it provides, it can make the paralytic walk, destroy all rats and bugs infesting their homes and, for any matrons in the crowd, quickly restore their youth!
Right off, Naletova recognized what an artistic prize she had in Dimitrii Stepanovich. The singer, big in stature and with a rotund voice, had all the stage expertise to carry off Naletova’s inventive stage busi ness as well as the composer’s and librettist’s intent to get down on pa per for their impressive patter song as many words as possible to be sung in the shortest possible amount of time. Stepanovich sailed straight through Dulcamara’s comical shenanigans and joining him were a few shady “locals” recruited for the specific purpose of demon strating to the villagers the elixir’s wonderful healing powers. Three cu rates side-by-side, dressed in rose-colored cassocks topped with wide brimmed hats, were patiently tapping out their pathway to the aria’s andante rhythm, oblivious, no doubt, to the onlookers’ empathy. A young woman, hovering over a crutch, bounced around making sure everyone saw her bad leg. On a riser, above the crowd’s view, was a band of grieving widows surrounding a makeshift coffin in which a body kept bobbing up, but somehow never on Dulcamara’s cue. Never theless, the villagers got the idea that this Lazarus was soon to rise from the dead. With one swig of Dulcamara’s almighty elixir, the curates dropped their walking sticks, threw away their dark glasses and walked off officiously to church. The young woman, throwing her crutch to the ground, danced a little tarantella. And the man who had been given up for dead walked away with his bevy of smiling widows.
In this production, Roman Muravitsky, our Nemorino, and Hibla Gerzmava, our Adina, performed to the best of their vocal and emotive talents, their heart-warming antics buoyed by Donizetti’s beautiful lyri cal gifts all the way to the “they lived happily ever after” ending we were promised all along.
Two memorable musical moments in particular stand out in this opera. One occurs in the midst of the Act One finale which is filled with jaunting, almost giddy melodies for Adina, Nemorino and Belcore, an other of Adina’s suitors. Donizetti slows down the opera’s headlong course to give us a truly beautiful musical moment in the best of Italian Romantic Opera tradition. This is “Adina credimi,” Nemorino’s tender plea to the headstrong Adina to wait just a single day for his love to ful ly blossom — something he believes will happen after drinking a bottle of the famous elixir. In the span of only sixteen measures, Donizetti’s musical interlude shows us a character in full dimension, a touching country bumpkin who succeeds in overcoming his clumsiness.
Near the end of Act Two, Donizetti takes the “beautiful moment” created by Nemorino’s plea in Act One one step further and capitalizes on it, by giving the bel canto world one of its most endearing tenor arias, “Una furtiva lagrima.” The romanza comes right after the scene in which Adina, seeing Nemorino happily surrounded by the town’s young ladies, who have just heard that a rich uncle has bequeathed him a large sum of lire, are vying for his attention. But Adina, not knowing the rea son for their sudden affection for her tenacious bumbler, sheds a quiet tear in a jealous reaction to her awakening love. Here Donizetti fills the aria with pathos and warmth, expressing the tune by way of a devilish ly challenging legato, so that the listener hears it being sung in one con tinuous intense line until a run of soft, supplicating notes brings Nemorino to finally rest his case.
At this point, a slight problem arose for Naletova. Her tenor, Ro man Muravitsky, a fine actor, displayed a very musical voice, but one that lacked some of the rich overtones this piece requires. Naletova in stinctively, or so it seemed, fell back on her original concept of always presenting the opera as a whole, encouraging Muravitsky to sing to his strengths and give a clear vocal rendition emphasizing the text and al lowing the tenor to project to the audience not only a well-conceived Nemorino, but a most believable one. By doing this Naletova proved again how cogent and expressive the Russians are when it comes to making opera a complete and most satisfying experience.