Elixir, Slow to Build Steam, Reveals Star Power

Janos Gereben on February 17, 2014
Dulcamara (Igor Vieira) and Nemorino (Chester Pidduck) get the elixir ready Photos by Otak Jump
Dulcamara (Igor Vieira) and Nemorino (Chester Pidduck) get the elixir ready
Photos by Otak Jump

For this devoted fan of Donizetti's L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love), the first half-hour of the West Bay Opera production on Sunday was frustrating.

Donizetti's comic operas — The Daughter of the Regiment, Don Pasquale, and Elixir especially — are richly melodious and genuinely hilarious, with driving, irresistible rhythms.

Not at the Sunday matinee. Until an ensemble halfway into Act 1, José Luis Moscovich conducted a mild-mannered, careful oom-pah-pah that could do for Lehár, but without the oomph that is Donizetti's pre-Verdian essence. I am sure it was all metronome-correct, but not of the right heartbeat.

Tempos and performance picked up later, and most of the second act was what is expected from Moscovich and WBO in the first place, but that long enervated stretch at the beginning was a disappointment.

María Fernanda Brea as Adina, with Pidduck
María Fernanda Brea as Adina, with Pidduck

It was the arrival of Igor Viera as the quack doctor Dulcamara that pumped vitality into the performance. The veteran baritone continued to provide a consistently wonderful comic performance, milking the role to the max, but staying in character and not pushing it one iota too far.

The good doctor's steam-driven vehicle — in Peter Crompton's set design, and David Cox' direction — helped to liven up the action.

Another impressive baritone, Bulgarian Krassen Karagiozov sings Belcore, looking like the very model of the sergeant who breaks the hearts of village girls. Molly Mahoney sings Giannetta so well that that she is listed in the program twice.

Igor Vieira and the WBO chorus
Igor Vieira and the WBO chorus

The headliner of the production is María Fernanda Brea, the Venezuelan soprano making her West Bay debut as Adina. She is 23, and her appearance and voice both recall the 1995 U.S. debut in San Francisco of somebody (then) of the same age, Anna Netrebko. The now world-famous singer then had the same inconsistent brilliance Brea has today.

While Brea's singing is never less than impressive with its accuracy and musicality, her intensity and involvement are not yet sustained. She sparkled in the duet with Viera, but in her extended scene close to the finale, the performance recalled an excellent conservatory recital, not more. At 23, and with what she has now, the sky may be the limit.

Brea was well partnered by Chester Pidduck as Nemorino. Another young artist, he sang well, and acted even better. The West Bay Chorus — 30 strong, filling the Lucie Stern Theatre stage — and Callie Floor's rich costumes contributed well to the production.

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