Directed by Stephen Lawless, Seattle Opera’s production of Donizetti’s whimsical L’elisir d’amore begins well and improves as it goes. The curtain opens on a large, illustrated billboard advertising sunflower oil, placing us in 1940s Italian countryside. Towering over Adina’s warehouse and Nemorino’s body shop, the billboard’s contents change throughout the show, combining with subtle but effective lighting from Thomas C. Hase to easily shift the mood without being obtrusive.

Luca Pisaroni (Doctor Dulcamara)
© Sunny Martini

Similarly, most of the costuming and staging decisions complement the story without distracting from it. The contrast of Adina’s crisp-collared dress and Nemorino’s worn boilersuit establishes the difference in their class status. When Belcore makes his first advances toward Adina, Nemorino performs repairs on Belcore’s mistreated military vehicle, adding another layer of interaction to their romantic rivalry. Other positive inclusions are the minister’s crucifix-adorned motorcycle and Nemorino and Adina’s final drive off into the sunset, à la Grease.

The presentation of Sergeant Belcore and his soldiers complicates the tone slightly. In this production they become the American military, and the charming, comic music underscoring their introduction is juxtaposed sharply as they advance from the back of the stage with guns drawn. The mood immediately swings back to slapstick comedy as the chorus recognizes which army has entered their town and quickly swap out their Italian flags for American ones. Throughout most of the production, the presence of the military’s large guns creates a sinister undercurrent at odds with the froth of the plot.

Tess Altiveros (Giannetta) and Salome Jicia (Adina)
© Sunny Martini

Although the violence of United States imperialism is a continually timely message, the army’s largely comedic role in the story and Belcore’s goofy physicality contrast with the threat of aggression they represent whenever they aren’t performing slapstick. Belcore’s menace as a foreign military figure is similarly undercut by his shrugging acceptance of Adina’s eventual refusal. Although this disrupts the tone slightly, the overall charm of the production reigns.

Salome Jicia brought a self-assurance and maturity to Adina that becomes the character. The classic beauty of her voice matched her 1940s costuming, and she was both coquettish and sweet. Although occasionally lacking a little power on lower notes, her nimble and accurate coloratura was especially impressive in her upper range. She sang with a lovely oval tone throughout and had great chemistry and flirtation with Andres Acosta’s Nemorino.

Andres Acosta (Nemorino)
© Sunny Martini

Acosta played a shy, charmingly clueless Nemorino whose performance grew to a showstopping “Una furtiva lagrima”. His earnest pining was loveable from the beginning, and brief moments of strain in his voice fit the youthful character and were more than made up for by his gorgeous “Lagrima”, sung with absolute control. Acosta moved easily between lovely, heart-wrenching fortes and tender softness.

While occasionally overpowered by the orchestra in the first act, Rodion Pogossov’s Sergeant Belcore warmed up into a broad and pleasing baritone. Seattle Opera regular Tess Altiveros broughtattitude to Giannetta, giving her flair that made her more than just Adina’s sidekick. Her beautiful tone and playfulness in the second act with “Saria possibile” were worth the wait.

Salome Jicia (Adina)
© Sunny Martini

Luca Pisaroni was an absolute delight as Doctor Dulcamara and gave the standout performance of the night. His bluster and confidence were accompanied by a gorgeous rolling vibrato and great comedic chops, and his consistency made the quick-talking part seem easy.

Conducted with grace and clarity by Giampaolo Bisanti, the orchestra played wonderfully, if sometimes a little too loudly. Woodwind solos particularly shone, and issues of balance with the vocalists toward the beginning of the show largely resolved themselves over time and can be put down to opening night adjustments. Projection issues for many of the vocalists improved throughout the show and weren’t enough to distract from the overall quality of the performance.