Soprano sub Chuchman scores sensational Met debut in “L’Elisir”
Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore exudes more sweetness that your standard opera buffa (the composer dubbed it a melodramma giocosa), like the best romantic comedies where the guy is sure to get the girl after a few misunderstandings and a humorous scrape or two. Bartlett Sher’s production, which opened the 2012-13 season at the Metropolitan Opera, returned Thursday night for a limited run.
The big news was the sensational house debut of Andriana Chuchman, who stepped in for an ailing Anna Netrebko. Slated for Met appearances in February’s Enchanted Island revival, the Canadian soprano is a graduate of the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Center and San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program, and has been racking up positive notices in lyric roles in Great Britain and North America.
Chuchman revealed a warm, buttery soprano that could be caressing or cajoling and her expressive, flexible phrasing complemented a delightful physical vivacity that makes her a valuable artist to fill the Met’s light lyric Fach. The staging retains some silly moves created for Netrebko (ice-dancing, anyone?), but Chuchman, who had sung the dress rehearsal, gamely took on the whole package and made it her own, earning a standing ovation.
Sher’s production aims to sharpen the dramatic edge of Felice Romani’s commedia dell’arte set-up by placing the work in the early years of the Risorgimento, Italy’s unification movement, introducing a hint of danger with the troops that accompany Sergeant Belcore, the pompous rival lover. Yet Michael Yeargen’s sets, excellently lit by Jennifer Tipton, are intentionally innocuous, a cute faux proscenium framing stock pieces that scream “Italian countryside.” A Renaissance church façade dominates the village square with its loggias and outdoor café, while the barn that hosts the engagement banquet morphs into a hayfield with a flimsy cardboard tree where the lovers frolic. Catherine Zuber’s ensemble costumes evoke a dreamy pastel past that highlights her peculiar choices for the leads. (It’s unclear why a country girl wears a top hat outside of a brothel, plus it obscured most of Chuchman’s face.)
Rolling into the village on his fancy black and gold temple-cart is the quack doctor Dulcamara, dispensing Bordeaux as a quick cure-all and love potion. Erwin Schrott’s outfit, a gypsy version of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow, unleashed a bizarre flamboyance from the bass (who is Netrebko’s ex) that was irresistible. Schrott’s firmly resonant voice brought musical point to his physical bravura and the characterization was captivating.
Ramón Vargas’s tenor took only a few pages to settle in, but his performance of the adorable Nemorino was generous and warm. Vargas is not afraid to take chances vocally, which brings real in-the-moment thrills to his singing, especially notable in his ardent “Adina, credimi” and a show-stopping “Una furtiva lagrima.” With his open, expressive face, Vargas has the potential to steal every scene, but he showed himself an exemplary colleague and a fine, controlled actor.
Nicola Alaimo brought a boorish aggressiveness to the role of Belcore, and the entire regiment hinted at a physical brutality that clashed with their cartoonish peacock-colored uniforms. The women of the excellent Met chorus surrounded Anne-Carolyn Bird’s bright and charming Giannetta with musical and dramatic alertness, while the superb orchestra did full justice to Donizetti’s richly detailed score, even with Maurizio Benini’s swift tempi.
L’Elisir d’Amore runs through Feb. 1. Anna Netrebko is scheduled to sing the role of Adina from Jan. 17. metoperafamily.org