Tuesday 23 October 2018 03:17:05 AM

Metropolitan Opera: L’elisir d’amore
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Metropolitan Opera: L’elisir d’amore

Review by George Fleeton

George Fleeton

The 7th season of operas – as live alternative cinema – beamed in directly via satellite from the Saturday matinées at the Metropolitan Opera House New York opened on 13 October  with Gaetano Donizetti’s 37th opera L’elisir d’amore (first given in Milan, 1832).

There will be eleven further live-in-HD operas this season between now and April 27 next year.

These operas, alongside the Bolshoi Ballet (live in High Definition from Moscow) and the Berlin Philharmonic (live in HD from Berlin), are orchestrated and conducted on our behalf throughout Ireland, north and south, by the innovative Classical Arts Ireland.

I caught up with the Donizetti opera on a first visit to a warm, welcoming Droichead Arts Centre in Drogheda, just one of 23 Irish venues screening these events: www.droichead.com

This opera is an old chestnut: pay no attention to the unlikely story; it’s the music, brimming with ideas and imagination, which makes it more than bearable.

It is beyond doubt that Russian Anna Netrebko is currently soprano du jour at the NY Met; although since her début there, ten years ago, there is not a major opera house in the world in which she has not sung.

In this rustic comedy by Donizetti (translated best as The Love Potion) she wears very comfortably her character Adina, a well off young lady who owns and runs a farm in the late 18th century Basque country.

Her delivery of some of Donizetti’s most beautiful music is impeccable, thrilling even, with her bel canto descants, high above both the chorus and her three great duets with the tenor.

His character, Nemorino, is the classic opera wimp, one of Adina’s farm labourers, truly madly in love with her, but unable to reach her – without the elixir of love ( a bottle of Bordeaux) provided by a quack medicine man (straight out of a Buffalo Bill Wild West show, complete with his horseshoe caravan  and buffo bluster).

He’s the pathetic, self styled Dr Dulcamara, who gets to sing a catchy barcarolle with Adina at the start of Act II.

All three male principals (there’s also the baritone, a jumped up, brash and brazen little army sergeant called Belcore) more than hold their own in Netrebko’s high octane company.

She had opened the new season at the Met in September, and the October 13 HD relay under review was the last performance there until early next year.

Meanwhile Netrebko had left New York the following day to sing Mimì in Puccini’s La Bohème at La Scala Milan next week, in Zeffirelli’s masterly staging of that opera. That’s what divas do.

On the opening night of L’elisir in Milan 180 years ago Donizetti wrote about the cast in these terms

‘We have a German prima donna, a tenor who stammers, a buffo with the voice of a goat, and a French basso who is not…’

He may have been right about his singers at the time but this opera has been a pretty wild success ever since.

And, as this Live in HD performance demonstrated, great music enters the ear easily and quits the memory with difficulty.

The next Bolshoi Ballet: Live in HD (the second of eight this season) is Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake (1877)    on October 21.

The next Met Opera: Live in HD is Verdi’s Otello (1887) on 27 October.

And the first (of three) Berlin Philharmonic: Live in HD is on November 09, Simon Rattle conducting.

Full details on www.classicalartsireland.com

George Fleeton writes independently on arts and culture.