The current revival of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Met is of a production that was new on opening night, 2012. Bartlett Sher’s concept of the work is not as giddy and lighthearted as most and it jars: Nemorino, in black leather, enters while writing in a notebook, and later, he has purloined Adina’s copy of the story of Tristano e Isotta to show to Dulcamara. It’s mentioned twice in the opera that he doesn’t know how to read or write, but I guess we just have to forget about that. We also have to disregard his sweet innocence when he picks up a rifle and starts waving it around.

Vittorio Grigolo (Nemorino) and Aleksandra Kurzak (Adina) © Marty Sohl | Metropolitan Opera
Vittorio Grigolo (Nemorino) and Aleksandra Kurzak (Adina)
© Marty Sohl | Metropolitan Opera

Adina is sharp, as usual, but a bit cruel and tough, and her complicated outfit features a tightfitting bodice that invites one to take note of her cleavage, a dark blazer with tails, and a top hat. It gives very mixed signals. (Costumes are by Catherine Zuber.) And since Sher has, for no reason, updated the opera to the last days of Risorgimento, Belcore and his Austrian soldiers are brutes who rough up Nemorino and come close to molesting the townswomen. Happily, in this revival, stage directed by Louisa Miller, much of the unpleasant behavior has been toned down – Nemorino no longer throws Adina to the ground in a fit of pique - but it still leaves one wondering at the contradictions and the logic behind Sher’s conception. Michael Yeargan's sets – a lovely village with what fields and sunny days, a town square and the interior of a barn – are simply painted flats that look like painted flats.  Artificiality reigns.

All of the fakery and pretension wears off as the evening goes on, and Donizetti’s music, antithetical to any such interpretation, wins, particularly with such fine singing at its center. Tenor Vittorio Grigolo, having none of Sher’s subtexts, plays Nemorino as the innocent he is, sweet and clueless, despite his ability to read. His voice is both beautiful and healthy, his stage presence charming and boyish (although he cannot seem to stand still for more than 15 seconds), his top notes grand (one wished there were more of them), and his delivery of “Una furtive lagrima” loving and sweet. It’s a wonderful performance that was greeted with great enthusiasm by the one-quarter empty house.

Alessandro Corbelli (Dulcamara) and Aleksandra Kurzak (Adina) © Marty Sohl | Metropolitan Opera
Alessandro Corbelli (Dulcamara) and Aleksandra Kurzak (Adina)
© Marty Sohl | Metropolitan Opera

As Adina, Aleksandra Kurzak sticks closer to Sher’s direction but shows more affection early and melts into loving behavior later in the opera. Her handling of the florid music is dazzling and she sings with charm. And if her diction is a bit mushy, well, she makes up for it in élan, and one believes the loving relationship that ends the opera. And if that works, the opera works.

Adam Plachetka (Belcore) and Aleksandra Kurzak (Adina) © Marty Sohl | Metropolitan Opera
Adam Plachetka (Belcore) and Aleksandra Kurzak (Adina)
© Marty Sohl | Metropolitan Opera

The lower men’s voices disappoint. Adam Plachetka is a tall, commanding presence as Belcore, but his voice and delivery are bland. And Alessandro Corbelli, normally a major “plus” in comic operas, sounds worn and underpowered as Dulcamara – perhaps an off evening. A lovely young soprano named Ying Fang as Giannetta rounds out the cast. Conductor Enrique Mazzola leads a perky performance, albeit with some ideas about tempi that do not always agree with the singers’. The Met Orchestra and Chorus can do no wrong.