Playing hard to get has its rewards. At least that's what Donizetti tells us. While the story of his The Elixir of Love is as silly as it is endearing, Donizetti's music is lyrical, clever, and disarmingly well-crafted. It is the beauty of that music that helps make the piece so lasting as a work of clever musical comedy rather than just slapstick. As San Diego Opera's second production of the season, The Elixir of Love was a fine revival of an old favorite.

Tatiana Lisnic (Adina) © Cory Weaver
Tatiana Lisnic (Adina)
© Cory Weaver

The story of Nemorino and his unrequited love for Adina was delivered with a knowing certainty in the final outcome of the story. Director Stephen Lawless doesn't have Nemorino played as simple or pathetic as often portrayed. Instead, here was a Nemorino, lovingly performed by Giuseppe Filianoti, who is smarter than given credit for and, while gullible, is supremely confident. The target of his affection, Adina, is a flirt who only lives to torment Nemorino. There is chemistry right from the outset. and the action is simply a fulfillment of what seems a foregone conclusion.

That's not to say that this rendering was entirely predictable. There were still plenty of gags and quirks that were deftly dispatched by the uniformly satisfactory cast. Still, Lawless' telling leaves his Nemorino more of a creator of his circumstances rather than haplessly duped by them. Although naïve enough to believe in a magic elixir, his ensuing confidence seems more a continuation of his original character than a creation of liquid courage. Thankfully, San Diego Opera had just the tenor to pull off such a character.

Tenor Giuseppe Filianoti portrayed Nemorino with complete abandonment. His expressive face and demeanor were wholly involved in the character and his portrayal never crossed over into camp. Filianoti has a handsome Italianate voice, but one that lacks youthful subtlety. There was little dynamic variance nor mixed voice, which made Nemorino's “Una furtiva lagrima” (marred by a small crack at the conclusion) oddly fatiguing. Despite vocally tiring as the evening went on, Filianoti remained committed through the end to turn in an enjoyable performance.

Giuseppe Filianoti (Nemorino) and Kevin Burdette (Dulcamara) © Cory Weaver
Giuseppe Filianoti (Nemorino) and Kevin Burdette (Dulcamara)
© Cory Weaver

His Adina, Moldovan soprano Tatiana Lisnic, was the vocal star of the evening. Hers is an attractive, colorful voice that navigated Donizetti's coloratura with ease. Lisnic sang with perfect intonation and her diminuendos were tantalizing. There is enough variance and power in her voice that the more lyric roles of Donizetti and Bellini should be easily in her grasp. Dramatically, she was visually appealing and, while lacking fire in her characterization, was a cool foil to Nemorino's ardor.

The two “buffo” roles were expertly sung by seasoned performers. Malcolm MacKenzie's Belcore was a smarmy yet regal Sergeant who sang the role with confidence and a burly, but imposing, baritone voice. Kevin Burdette's Dulcamara was a crowd favorite who sang the role with a brassy bass sonority that sparkled through Donizetti's crackling patter aria. His Mad Hatter appearance made for a most enjoyable and endearing character. Although a quack, he was a loveable one.

Giuseppe Filianoti (Nemorino), Malcolm Mackenzie (Belcore) and Tatiana Lisnic (Adina) © Cory Weaver
Giuseppe Filianoti (Nemorino), Malcolm Mackenzie (Belcore) and Tatiana Lisnic (Adina)
© Cory Weaver

Karen Kamensek led the forces firmly. The lyricism of the score was played up well, but the effervescence of Donizetti's ensemble numbers were impressively taut. Kamensek was exceptionally sensitive to the singers onstage without allowing the performance to lose momentum. The members of the San Diego Symphony played well as an ensemble with some fine solo woodwind work. The San Diego Opera Chorus sang robustly and were a excellent dramatic addition as usual.

Sets and costumes were in satisfying harmony with the larger production. While the large gate design of the set seemed occasionally fussy, it was used appropriately and was a compelling part of the action.

While not perfectly congruent, this was a mostly harmonious performance, one that received full commitment from the cast and players. It was a true ensemble affair, and one that succeeded in giving Donizetti's charming opera a fresh take and, just as importantly, a solid musical effort.

****1