A rich-voiced tenor makes a charismatic debut in Met’s “Elixir”

Fri Apr 14, 2023 at 1:08 pm
By Rick Perdian
Xabier Anduaga made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Nemorino in Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amor Thursday night.

L’Elisir d’amore returned to the Metropolitan Opera Thursday evening with a near-perfect cast led by Michele Gamba in the pit. That alone was reason enough to celebrate, but the debut of 27-year-old Spanish tenor Xabier Anduaga added additional glamour, vocal and otherwise, that all but brought the show to a halt after his lyrical, heartfelt “Una furtiva lagrima”. 

Bartlett Sher’s Broadway-inspired concept for Donizetti’s comic gem still works. The production is slick, with the comedy conceived in broad brushstrokes and relatively few deviations from the libretto. It’s on a human scale, chiefly because Sher telescopes the action into a a relatively small space by use of a false proscenium. He was wise in gauging that intimacy is key in revealing the charms of Donizetti’s Elixir of Love. 

Sher places the opera in 1836, just a few years after the opera’s premiere in Milan. Michael Yeargan’s set conjures up a small Italian village at harvest time, affording the opportunity for some lovely scenes of fields with golden grain enhanced by Jennifer Tipton’s subtle lighting. Catherine Zuber’s costumes add period authenticity, especially in the soldiers’ dashing uniforms. 

The Met has an impressive roster of lyrical tenors and Anduaga is in the sturdy house tradtion. Just as Almaviva was the perfect role to introduce Juan Diego Flórez to Met audiences, Nemorino is likewise for Anduaga. From the first phrases of Nemorino’s first-act aria, “Quanto è bella, quanto è cara”, in which the simple peasant expresses his love for the sophisticated, wealthy Adina, you knew that you were experiencing something wonderful. 

Anduaga posses a particularly rich lyric tenor with a vocal presence that enables his voice to soar into the house. The role of Nemorino doesn’t call for vocal fireworks, but it does call for expressing emotion through Donizetti’s incomparable marriage of text and music. That’s a quality that Anduaga has in spades. 

It is not only the golden richness of his voice that excites, but also his musicianship. In the last line of his first aria, Anduaga tapered a phrase to the lightest and most beautiful of pianissimi, employed sparingly but to great effect.

Anduaga is also a subtle actor with a winning combination of charm and looks. He puckered up his face in a heartbreaking pout as Adina taunted him by flirting with the dashing Sargent Belcore. A raise of the tenor’s eyebrows expressed chagrin or surprise to equal effect. Intoxicated by the less-than-magical qualities of Dulcamara’s elixir, Anduaga’s Nemorino was bold and brash, but never obnoxious. His bumpkin emerged triumphant, if perhaps no less worldly, at the opera’s end, but with the girl he adored.

The object of his affection was Aleksandra Kurzak’s Adina, reprising a role that she first sang at the Met in 2016. Kurzak is tackling heavier roles such as Tosca, which she performed earlier this season at the Met, and her voice has taken on an alluring golden quality. Her soprano, however, has retained the lightness, agility and lyricism necessary for an Adina.

Kurzak indulges in broad comic touches, especially when she holds all the cards in her hand in Act I. She can inject a tease into high-flying phrases when taunting Nemorino through voice alone. The brashness of her Adina evolves into bewilderment and then despair as the girl fears losing him forever. With vulnerability, came a far lighter dramatic touch and more delicate vocal palette.

The spirit of opera buffa coursed through this performance—not only from the brilliant, energetic sounds emerging from the pit, but also the ensemble work, which was anchored by the superb Dulcamara of Alex Esposito. His Dulcamara was a charlatan and opportunist with a sardonic touch, expressed through rapid-fire banter and an evil glare. The action swirled around him whenever he was on stage.

As Belcore, Joshua Hopkins was perhaps as equally opportunistic as Esposito’s Dulcamara, but had dashing good looks and bravura as his calling cards. This Belcore knows that there is a pretty girl in every town or village where he lands, so no use pining after the one that got away. Hopkins’s rich baritone is just as suave as the dramatic strokes that he employed to create a Belcore that had delicious touches of virility and viciousness. 

Also making her house debut was soprano Magdalena Kuzma as Giannetta, a member of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Program. With her deluxe voice and vivid stage presence, Kuzma brightened the stage as she broke the news that Nemorino had inherited a fortune from his recently deceased uncle. 

Gamba made his Met debut in the January run of L’Elisir d’amore. This fuller-voiced cast gave him the opportunity to draw a far more expansive performance from the orchestra with more than a few of echt-Rossinian rockets firing the performance. 

L’Elisir d’amore continues through April 29. metopera.org

One Response to “A rich-voiced tenor makes a charismatic debut in Met’s “Elixir””

  1. Posted Apr 17, 2023 at 9:10 pm by Charlie

    Happy to have a young, good looking and talented tenor at The Met. He and his amazing voice certainly are ready for the HD camera.

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