Early in L’ Elisir d’Amore, Dulcamara, a quack hilariously played by Michael Wanko, sells to Nemorino, a young peasant wonderfully sung by Robert McPherson, something he calls “Queen Isolde’s Elixir of Love,” then says in an aside, “It’s not much of an elixir, but it’s not a bad Bordeaux.” That comment applies to the entire opera-it doesn’t change the world, but it has a wonderful flavor. From the charming cast, including Susan Holsonbake as Adina, the object of Nemorino’s affections, Nicolai Janitzky as Belcore, the blustering sergeant, and Erika Bucholz as Gianetta, a peasant girl, to Miller James’s colorful costumes and Valery Ryvkin’s expert conducting, Opera Santa Barbara’s version of this frothy opera buffa tasted like good wine at a great party.
The essence of this light piece lies in setting up vivid contrasts between sincerity and insincerity without making the audience worry too much about the consequences. Nemorino, for instance, begins the opera far too sincerely, and his wild declarations of love leave Adina indifferent. McPherson lets us see why, while keeping us sympathetic-his glorious tenor voice tells us that he really loves her, but his bumbling advances show us how he needs to mature a little before Adina will fall for him. Meanwhile, Janitsky and Wanko have a wonderful time letting us in on Belcore and Dulcamara’s shameless hustling-the sergeant has a girl in every town, and the doctor will sell his love potion to anyone-and ends up selling it to everyone. Even Giannetta, a pretty peasant girl, has a secret: Nemorino just got rich. Of course, she tells all her friends, and this sudden good fortune gives him an allure no elixir could.
When the long-separated lovers get together in the end (as you knew they would), even Belcore takes the news well. After all, who could stay angry when the village is so full of good will, high spirits, and attractive people? The elixir may be fraudulent, but the sound of people falling in love and having some fun is as real as the laughs from the audience. Other operas may take you into the depths of the soul, but this one had no such pretensions. The music was a pleasure, and Opera Santa Barbara should be congratulated on giving us all a genuinely enjoyable night out, full of delicious sounds.