Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Love Potion No. 9

Worshipping at her feet: Adina reads Tristan Und Isolde, 
giving impressionable Nemorino the idea of finding a love potion.

Love is a drug.

But love is also a disease that seeks a cure.

Entonces: let's brew a love potion.

After the Verdi double-whammy of a lovers' sacrifice in Aida and the karmic retributions in Rigoletto, Donizetti's comic L'Elisir d'Amore - the third in CCP's ongoing Met Operas in HD series - is a breath of fresh air. An opera that, for once, doesn't end in tragedy.

It is the bel canto equivalent of a rom-com, although this 2012 Met season opener is played more "straight" than the usual loopy stagings. The formula for L'Elisir is familiar: klutzy boy pines after popular girl; girl is disinterested. Boy feigns losing interest in girl; girl suddenly sits up and takes notice. Add a cocky rival and a sly charlatan to the mix, and you've got the ingredients fit for a vehicle for a 19th century Katherine Heigl.

Bizarre Love Triangle : Decisions, decisions.

While opera's themes are timeless, I'm still grateful the Met didn't transpose L'Elisir to a more modern era like what they did with Rigoletto, but kept it firmly in the original 19th century Italian countryside setting. The rustic period costumes and painterly sets all help contribute to the flight of artistic fancy, although I must admit I'm curious to see the 1978 production that set it in the Wild West, with its homesteads, frontier towns, and of course, its snake-oil salesmen peddling hope and quackery in equal measure.

Again, the Met isn't lacking for talent, and the key players in this production deliver spectacularly. Russian soprano Anna Netrebko - a dead-ringer for Lynda Carter - is perfectly cast as the coquettish yet headstrong  landowner Adina. Italian-American lyric tenor Matthew Polenzani is sympathetic and endearing as the lovestruck, simple-minded commoner Nemorino. And Polish baritone Mariusz Kweicień makes an effective - if a tad nasty - contrast as his rival, the arrogant ladykiller Sergeant Bercole.

Hawking Hopes and Dreams: Dr. Dulcamara makes his pitch.

Italian baritone Ambrogio Maestri essays the role of Dr. Dulcamara, the quack doctor in a fancy traveling carriage who sells the gullible Nemorino the titular elixir of love, which sets the events of the opera in motion. He brings an irresponsible, irrepressible jollity to the part - almost as though Santa Claus came to town and conned cure-alls for a crown instead of bearing gifts. Maestri's big, majestic voice and great comic timing lend the part a quirky, gleefully amoral weight, and he conveys a presence large enough - literally and figuratively - to play Louis XIV if ever an opera about the decadent Bourbons were to be penned.

Coy with boy : Adina donna é mobile.

Netrebko plays the village prima donna Adina with an easy earthy sensuality, complemented by her robust, full-bodied voice. It's a shame Adina's solo early on isn't remarkable enough to showcase Netrebko's shimmering pipes; instead, her soaring curlicues are mostly spent embellishing (admittedly-lovely) duets with her male co-stars and adorning the rousing ensemble numbers.

Fickle femme: I've set you free. Now stay with me.

Ironically, I wasn't expecting Donizetti's light, airy opera to move me the way Verdi's heavy tragedies couldn't. But Matthew Polenzani's rendition of Una Furtiva Lagrima - the most famous aria in this oeuvre -poetically brought a furtive tear to my eye:

Polenzani starts off pretty unremarkably, misleading us with what seems like a competent but average rendition, but ambushes the audience as he kills the solo toward the end (starting at 4:20). If the thunderous minute-long applause and shouts of "Bravo!" aren't proof enough, your ears - if not your very soul - are dead as lead.

Even without glancing at the subtitles, the music was more than enough to convey the breadth and depth of the emotion.

Living proof that music - like love - truly has the power to move you.

Except with music, you don't need no magic potion.

Will They Or Won't They? Are you kidding?

You can watch the entire thing here. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Culture Clash

Actually, more like a ballet brawl.

Gene Kim's animation thesis Fighting Spirits puts a new, tech spin on the battling Odette and Odile from Swan Lake.

Maybe if we had more cyborg ballerinas, more young people would come to watch the ballet.

Well, we can always dream.

On a side note, I'm sure nothing of this sort will happen tonight at the Stars of Philippine Ballet gala.

I'll keep you posted.