There is a reason “Elixir of Love” is one of his most-produced operas and seen frequently all over the world. Audiences never tire of exploring themes of love and always enjoy a good love story, and the crowd present for the Indianapolis Opera production of Gaetano Donizetti’s comic opera on Friday at The Tarkington at the Center for the Performing Arts certainly received a healthy dose of both.
Scott Perry was the director, Alfred Savia the guest conductor and John Schmid was the chorus master of the production, which showcased the high artistic quality of IO’s product, under the frugal eye of general director David Craig Starkey, continuing to demonstrate that more does not necessary mean better. The Tarkington venue is one of my favorites for its medium size and technical capabilities, making any production I have seen there more of an intimate, connective experience than those seen at larger houses, such as Clowes Memorial Hall and The Murat. That is not to say, however, that those theaters don’t have their own special appeal.
As far as the opera’s plot, “Elixir of Love” is set at the turn of the century in a small Italian town. The main characters include Nemorino (Jesus Garcia), a poor, love-struck busboy at an inn, rich and beautiful Adina (Ashley Fabian), who doesn’t give him the time of day, Belcore (Ethan Vincent), a dashing officer who is full of himself, Dulcamara (Gary Simpson), a traveling snake-oil salesman who arrives in town to bilk the unsuspecting villagers and Giannetta (Katherine Fili), a flirtatious server. It’s a lighthearted frolic, featuring a fake love potion that is actually a bottle of cheap wine. Along with loads of laughs, Donizetti’s modest comedy also conveys some solid messages, including how pure sincerity trumps any fake passion induced by a phony potion.
The principal cast members were all exceptional vocalists, plus they all demonstrated very effective comedic talent. In fact, I don’t recall having laughed so much during an opera. There were some genuinely hilarious moments. In the end, this production was extremely well cast.
Highlight performances included those of tenor Garcia as the love-struck Nemorino singing the iconic aria “Una furtiva lagrima,” which touched me deeply and with soprano Fabian as Adina in the romantic duet “Chiedi all’aura lusinghiera.” Potent performances were also turned in by lush baritone Vincent as swaggering Sergeant Belcore, as was that of Simpson, a Metropolitan Opera principal, as the unscrupulous quack Belcore. Mezzo soprano Fili exceled both vocally and dramatically as the town gossip Giannetta.
Contributing to the production’s high degree of artistic success were its technical elements, which included James Schumacher’s set, with its Mediterranean style, terracotta-colored structures with tiled roof, all splashed to sunny effect by lighting designer Quinten James.
Gimmicks are everything when it comes to selling tickets. GM Starkey devised a great one when he partnered with Indianapolis Motor Speedway which lent him a Maxwell Model AA, built in 1910, for use in the production. It’s the car that Belcore rides into town in when he makes his entrance. To up the ante on the partnershiop with the Speeday, 500 Race car driver Eric Veach appeared as Belcore’s assistant Mario. And to expand on the connection with the Track, Lucca, the town where 500 legend Mario Andretti’s family is from, is named as the setting for the production.
The performance I attended was less than half full. Hopefully, the crowds increased over the weekend. Again, the Indianapolis Opera product reflects a high level of artistry and deserves the community’s support, as it is one of the shining lights on the local arts landscape and one of its treasures.
For tickets and information about the remainder of the Indianapolis Opera 2019-2020 season, visit indyopera.org.