Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Pene Pati and The Elixir of Love

San Francisco Opera's final show of the fall season is a sunny, genuinely funny production of The Elixir of Love (L'Elisir d'Amore), Donizetti's 1834 village comedy that my friend James Parr likens to a successful Hallmark Channel rom-com. The production is from Opera North in the UK, and is brilliantly directed by Daniel Slater collaborating with choreographer Tim Claydon. The original 19th century Italian farm village has been updated to a hotel in a 1950s Italian coastal village, which mostly works just fine, since the characters are so archetypal that they could fit into just about any setting or time. (All photos by Cory Weaver and Kristen Loken.)
The excitement of the production is tenor Pene Pati as Nemorino, the country bumpkin with a heart full of love. Pati is an ethnic Samoan from New Zealand who came to San Francisco Opera's Merola and Adler programs for young singers in 2013. The few times I heard him over the years he had a huge, beautiful voice that didn't seem to be quite under control. Since those student years, he has been carving out a career in Europe while learning the operatic repertory and the finishing school has evidently paid off. His current vocal control and gorgeous, effortless sounding tenor is a pure sensual pleasure to experience live, and there is an easy freedom to his singing that is remarkable.
Plus he's funny, a wonderful physical comedian who connects directly with the audience while staying in character. The love potion elixir of the title is actually just Bordeaux wine, so the opera is filled with a lot of drunk humor, which Pati dispatches with the grace of a silent film comedian. His attempt at looking suave while stretched out on a stairway before his beloved, only to clumsily bounce down the stairs, was perfection. Pati debuted in this role at the Paris Opera, and it feels tailor-made for him. As he notes in a program interview, "Before even the music, what appealed to me was that character of being fun, being vulnerable, being innocent. The attributes of Nemorino are so me!"
The chorus is a major presence in the opera, and each chorister has been assigned individual characters. They also have a lot of simple Broadway-style choreography from Claydon to perform, and they look like they are enjoying themselves immensely while sounding musically superb. In the minor part of Giannetta, Arianna Rodriguez suddenly has a lot to sing in the final scene, including the telling of a secret to the entire crowd while swearing them to secrecy. Rodriguez was so effervescent that she threatened to run away with the show, but instead ran off with a sailor.
Slávka Zámečníková plays Adina, the beautiful, higher-class woman who is the object of Nemorino's sighs and longings. She looked smashing in the 1950s costumes and sang in a pure, almost icy soprano that made her character often seem cruel rather than an even mixture of haughty and kind. She is an engaging actress, though, who made the Hallmark Channel happy ending work.
Baritone David Bizic felt miscast as Belcore, the blowhard military stud who is convinced that he is god's gift to women. It can be a charming, funny role for a sexy young baritone but in this production Bizil never felt like any serious competition for Adina's favors.
The role that is written to be a scene-stealer by librettist Felice Romani is Dulcamara, a traveling con man who is selling phony remedies for every ailment under the sun, including being unloved. Renato Girolami was just fine, but the true scene-stealer was his assistant, the 13-year-old supernumerary Aidan Politza. His easy grace onstage, whether handling complicated props or dancing with Dulcamara, was endlessly amusing. Bravo. And bravo to debuting conductor Ramon Tebar leading the SF Opera Orchestra who made one of Donizetti's best scores sparkle all afternoon. There are two more performances with Pati singing, on Tuesday, December 5 and Saturday, December 9, and you should really try to catch one if you can.

1 comment:

Christine Okon said...

Wonderful review! Thank you for inviting me to this fabulous production ❤️