By Anna DeNoia
Lyric Opera’s Elixir of Love provides both a dreamy escape for its audience and further sticks the landing on their reopening. This production crafts a new setting for Gaetano Donizetti's classic comedy, painting a picture of the Fifties dolce vita Italy. Designer Robert Innnes Hopkins, a master of perspective and precision, makes expert use of linework and scale to craft the playing space for this waggish romance. As the curtain rises, audience members are welcomed into a reality slightly elevated by the storefront of the Hotel Adina. The checkered floor below and striped canopy hanging above dissect the space at precise angles, bordering a beautiful blue sky. While such strategies are usually employed to trick the eye and suggest depth in two dimensional works of art, each element in Hopkins’s design cleverly slopes in such a way that allows the hotel and it’s patrons to spill forward, adding magical motion to a world which seems to belong on a gallery wall. This production—all one-hundred fifty minutes of it— flies by, as fun tends to do, and it's captained by standout performances from its leading lovebirds. Ailyn Peréz presents a charming and savvy Adina with effortless intimacy. She captivates her community of chorus members, her many suitors, and her audience alike with a dynamic sincerity that makes it easy to understand how Elixir’s story comes to revolve around her. Peréz’s knack for storytelling makes every moment spent with Adina feel like catching up with a friend, while the incredible control she exhibits over her soaring soprano makes it clear that we are witnessing a master at work. The inverse of Adina’s collected confidence is obvious in Charles Castronovo’s portrayal of the clumsy, lovestruck Nemorino. He displays impressive range, eliciting wide laughter from his audience both in his over-the-top moments as the center of attention, as well as his subtle and honest moments of reaction. While this foolish, earnest protagonist has the rare ability to leave the house in stitches, he also possesses an even rarer talent— the ability to turn on a dime to heartwarming sincerity. Alone onstage, he absolutely hypnotizes with “Una furtiva lagrima,” his second-art aria. After outpouring this stunning love song, Castronovo drew long and well-deserved “bravas," true to the musical magic that brings audiences back to the opera time and time again.
Lyric’s production honors Elixir's humorous heart with clever and creative physical comedy. In his Lyric debut, director Daniel Slater revels in pratfalls, power struggles, and delicious ironies, always allowing his audience just a touch more insight than his colorful characters are privy to. This physical comedy is most memorable in Joshua Hopkin’s portrayal of Captain Belcore, the braggadocio who opposes Nemorino in the fight for Adina’s affection. Il capitano moves with supreme confidence and absolute surity of his place atop the food chain, allowing for maximum payoff when he thoughtlessly brushes those of a lower status aside in the pursuit of what he wants, as well as exciting change at moments in which his power is upset. Slater’s comedic and specific physicality is thoroughly honored by the Lyric Opera Chorus. This collection of community members is carefully costumed— chic tourists, hotel staff, and naval officers, among many— creatively crafting a vibrant ensemble of onlookers. They largely move as a unit, with admittedly simple but clearly intentional choreography by Tim Claydon. When this ensemble frames the stage, they heighten the stakes of each scene, tightly focused on the main action, reinforcing the walls of the world in which the only urgent matter is romance. These characters are primarily surrounded by warm and carefree summer sunshine, as illuminated by Sarah Riffle’s revival of Simon Mills’ original lighting design. Even the captain’s talk of war is nondescript and full of levity, with he and his comedic band of fellow soldiers settled safely upon Vespas and adorned in cheerful white garb. While moments of drama and sincere emotion are still very much present in The Elixir of Love, they are born only of romantic desire. These characters earnestly yearn for one another in a world free of the weight of the many heavy months our world has seen.
Elixir of Love is a long-awaited reward for those who have eagerly anticipated opera’s return, as well as newcomers. It's a spectacular celebration of togetherness and art in our own world, as well as a much-needed escape into another world— a carefree Italian summer overflowing with beauty, music, hot air balloons, and love. The Elixir of Love runs through October 8th at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr. All ticket holders will be required to show a valid photo ID and proof of full vaccination against the COVID-19 virus. Facial masks, worn properly over the nose and mouth, will be required for all patrons for the duration of their time in the theater. For tickets or more information, please call (312) 332-2244 or visit lyricopera.org. Photos by Cory Weaver.