Soprano sub Chuchman scores sensational Met debut in “L’Elisir”

Fri Jan 10, 2014 at 1:28 pm
Andriana Chuchman in the Metropolitan Opera's "L'Elisir d'Amore." Photo: Ken Howard

Andriana Chuchman in the Metropolitan Opera’s “L’Elisir d’Amore.”
Photo: Ken Howard

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.

5 Responses to “Soprano sub Chuchman scores sensational Met debut in “L’Elisir””

  1. Posted Jan 11, 2014 at 9:23 am by Korin

    Oh, do not try to gentlemen. Spectators have eyes and ears. Adina was raw, high notes does not take , a very different level than Netrebko. Dulcamara not Dulcamara and Macho of Roya Tango.

  2. Posted Jan 11, 2014 at 9:27 pm by Bohdan I. Shulakewych

    Bravo! Bravo! Bravissimo!… and Slava! It is great that a Ukrainian-Canadian from Winnipeg, Manitoba has attained this wonderful achievement to sing at the Met! It may be ironic, that this Ukrainian lady from Canada has taken over from Anna Netrebko – from Krasnodar, a descendant of Ukrainian Kossaks…

  3. Posted Jan 13, 2014 at 2:03 pm by Ostap Hawaleshka

    Well deserved congratulations to Andriana – may she enjoy ever greater successes in the future!

  4. Posted Jan 13, 2014 at 7:19 pm by Ralph Acosta

    I heard this performance on FM and not in the flesh, but I am surprised, I heard a rather nondiscript (Adina) comprimario and nothing more; and even Ramon sounded indisposed, there were so many little glitches and off notes in his performance I was waiting for someone to come out at intermission to announce his indisposition, Alaimo sounded older than Dulcamara and the only singer to really reach the finish line was Schrott, but why him when Maestri was in town?!

  5. Posted Jan 15, 2014 at 1:57 am by Mike

    Was the writer of this article high??? Sorry all- Chuchman was ANYTHING BUT sensational, good, stellar, successful, a delight, with a buttery voice, or whatever other superlative adjective the reviewers have used in the past couple of days. I was there in person, in a very good seat, and she was quite inaudible at moments (especially singing lower notes- no chest voice whatsoever), with a very rough top, cutting off all of the notes short, running out of breath and very, very vocally pale in comparison to Netrebko.

    Chuchman was cute at moments, but hers was a small voice not capable of filling up a BIG house from top to bottom and being evenly audible from beginning to end. She frequently sounded very tired by the end of every aria and scene. It was a vocally very anemic performance, sounding and looking exactly like when an under-prepared and vocally average last-minute standby has to go on, or like some conservatory production- a voice with a good potential but still not ripe enough for a big debut. I understand the nerves must have played a big part, but, she did not have the voice for this role at the Met. Maybe in a much smaller house- but NOT at the Met.

    Vargas was also in pretty rough shape, but was able to hold his fort from beginning to end. The worst of all was Alaimo who didn’t fit the part neither physically nor vocally. He was an abomination of Belcore. Blows my mind that he was even cast in this role. The man can’t sing from being so overweight. Luckily, Schrott saved the performance. It was an excellent delivery from beginning to the end- minus the tacky Jack Sparrow costume, hair and make up. Note to Met’s casting directors: the audience sees and hears everything. Be careful and more selective who you give parts to.

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