“It’s every man’s dream,” said Marco Cammarota when reminded of the way that his character, Nemorino, is swarmed by women in the second act of L’elisir d’amore, which Opera Santa Barbara presents this weekend at the Granada Theatre. And although he was talking about the plenitude of romantic options that suddenly open up for his character after word gets out that he’s just inherited millions of scudis, he could just as well be referring to the role he is singing, which has been a calling card for nearly every important tenor since Enrico Caruso. This humble peasant wins the hand of a fine lady despite the deceit of a quack who sells him a phony love potion. In the process, Nemorino goes through some heavy melodramatic changes and still finds time to get roaring drunk — twice.
Gaetano Donizetti’s talent as a composer has made this romp a perennial with opera companies around the world. For many fans and performers, it’s one of the first great experiences with the pleasures of the form. “It was the first opera I really listened to when I was in college. I had the DVD of Luciano Pavarotti and Kathleen Battle at the Metropolitan Opera, and I played it over and over again,” Cammarota said. Cammarota is one of three cast members who are graduates of the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati (the others are Zachary Owen, who will play Dr. Dulcamara, and Luis Orozco, who will play officer Belcore), and he appreciates the presence of some of the singers who have been his friends since the beginning of his career. Stage Director Alan E. Hicks has been putting the production together with careful attention to detail, according to his lead actor. “I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of stagecraft at this point,” Cammarota said, “and from that point of view, working with Alan has been great, because he keeps searching for those details that bring the whole scene together, and that reveals the dramatic meaning of the moment.”
Playing Nemorino means being onstage virtually the entire night and interacting in duets and ensembles with every other character. When asked about how he prepares for a role that’s been played by Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo, among others, Cammarota said that he has benefited from “mediation. I’ve been doing it for 18 months now, and it’s been so good for me as a tenor, because it has allowed me to hone my nervous energy into an ally. Wording things a certain way, like substituting “I’m excited” for “I’m nervous,” can reframe things in a way that has a real impact on your performance. As opera singers, we often speak of what it feels like to really be in the moment onstage, and the expression we use most often is expanded — you want to be expanded in the role.”
What is Cammarota’s favorite part of the performance? Why the drunken scenes, of course. “It’s so great because he’s feeling good for one reason, because he thinks the potion is working, but the audience knows that he’s really just drunk, and that makes it funny. I love it that his attitude is based on liquid confidence.” With Angela Mannino as Adina making his life alternately miserable and heavenly, Cammarota should have no trouble finding the excitement necessary to scale the heights of one of opera’s greatest parts.
Opera Santa Barbara presents L’elisir d’amore on Friday, March 4, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 6, at 2:30 p.m. at the Granada Theatre. For tickets and information, visit operasb.org or call (805) 899-2222.