Thursday, July 23, 2015

Fantastic singing and acting in Wild West version of Portland Opera’s “The Elixir of Love”

Photo credit: Cory Weaver
“The Elixir of Love” received outstanding performances from a posse of young singers plus one savvy veteran on opening night (July 17) at the Newmark Theatre. They were the centerpieces of Donizetti’s rustic comedy, which Portland Opera set in the Wild West of the 1860s with a new production that was brilliantly designed by Curt Enderle and topped off by the superb directions of Ned Canty.

Because the Newmark has a small orchestra pit, Portland Opera used a new arrangement by Bryan Higgins that required only 26 musicians. The reduction in forces balanced extremely well with the principals, who came primarily from the company’s strong resident artist program.

Soprano Katrina Galka had a field day as Adina, the prosperous landowner/businesswoman who coolly ignores the naïve, young man (Nemorino) who is in love with her until he becomes the hottest number in town. Galka sang with ebullience and vocal purity, articulating numerous runs and thrilling high notes that she tossed off with ease.

In the role of Nemorino, Tenor Matthew Grills gave a stellar performance with ardent singing and acting that was perfectly matched. The fearful and stilted way that he attempted to hand a bouquet to Adina, juxtaposed wonderfully with his bubbling confidence from Dulcamara’s elixir and the adoration of the town’s women later in the story. And if anyone wondered, Grill’s delivery of the famous “Una furtive lagrima” aria was world class.

Looking strikingly like General George Custer, Alexander Elliott’s Belcore preened and posed with convincing self-absorption. His voice was especially effective in the upper register where other baritones would fear to tread. Steven Condy played the quack doctor Dulcamara to the hilt. His deprecating asides elicited buckets of laughter, and his basso voice was nimble and engaging. Valery Saul made the most of her role as Giannetta, the charming gal who was in the know.
Photo credit: Cory Weaver
Transposing a Basque village to a frontier town of the Wild West era, was just plain fun to see. Scenic designer Curt Enderle tucked in all sorts of details with “Wanted” signs and posters that advertised Dulcamara’s medicine show. One of the storefronts, denoted as the M & F Emporium, was a wonderful nod to Portland’s past (Meier and Frank), and emblazoned across the top of Dulcamara’s wagon was “Oregon Indian Medicine Company.”

Nicholas Fox, making his debut as an opera conductor, expertly led the orchestra, played the harpsichord, and prepared the chorus. Lighting designer Don Crossley was especially good at damping the background and drawing a bead on the meditative solos.

The only drawback in this production was the arid acoustic of the Newmark Theatre. If there were an way of getting some warmth and a little smidgen of reverb, that would have brought everything to an even higher level. But right now, it is highly recommended to get a ticket and hear some of the best young voices that you’ll ever hear anywhere. There are just four more performances left: July 23rd, 25th,and 30th and August 1st.
Photo credit: Cory Weaver

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