Transported from its traditional, Basque country setting, Gaetano Donizetti’s famous comic opera, “The Elixir of Love,” received a Norman Rockwell makeover Saturday for its opening night at the Capitol Theater.
Complete with an ice cream truck, leatherheaded football players and Uncle Sam propaganda posters, the entertaining and colorful presentation dressed the stage beautifully as the orchestra, directed by Susanne Sheston, welcomed patrons to the saturated landscape.
This production, originally imagined by James Robinson, presents a backdrop almost as lovably naive as the story’s protagonist, Nemorino, played by Aaron Blake. Hopelessly in love with the town’s belle, Adina, Nemorino puts his faith in a love elixir, sold to him by the shifty Dr. Dulcamara, hoping its effects will work their magic before Adina marries another that very evening — the overly confident Sergeant Belcore.
Blake’s ingenuous charisma easily sold Nemorino, even throughout occasional moments when the tenor was overpowered by a sweeping orchestra or energetic chorus. If at any time an audience member felt lost in one of the many rich and layered ensemble pieces, he or she only had to glance at Blake to feel his Linus Van Pelt-like sincerity, and reinvest in their leading man.
Soprano Anya Matanovic dazzled as Nemorino’s love interest, Adina. Tasked with many of the musical fireworks of the production, Matanovic’s performance maintained a flirty playfulness, even while executing many of the evening’s most challenging selections.
But the leading actors weren’t the only stars of the show. Thanks to some thoughtful interactions framed by stage director Crystal Manich, it was easy to get lost in the community surrounding Nemorino and Adina. Enjoying a balance of artistic placement and actual purpose, chorus members moved throughout the story as if at any moment it might be their turn to share another point of view. And as new characters were introduced, it was almost always with a helping hand or engaging ensemble.
Rod Nelman seemed to be having the most fun Saturday, portraying the fast-talking Dulcamara. Never allowing the good doctor to completely succumb to melodrama, Nelman’s authentic take on Dulcamara was a welcome one, and the clarity he maintained was impressive for any bass performing in opera today.
Sergeant Belcore received most of the laughs, thanks in large part to Andrew Wailkowske’s commanding presence. Jennie Litster, playing Adina’s friend Giannetta, was a bright and colorful addition to the impressive cast.
Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the evening — and in fact what really set “Elixir of Love” apart from many of the beautiful productions Utah Opera continues to present — was the natural chemistry this cast enjoyed together. Their energy was infectious and their charm magnified as they interacted with other cast members.
If you haven’t seen “Elixir of Love,” this is an excellent cast to introduce you. If you have, this new production gives you plenty of reasons to enjoy another look.