"The Elixir of Love" is the perfect opera for Valentine's Day. Most operas have love affairs or courting as their backdrop, but few are as charming as Donizetti's story of a lovesick lad and a headstrong beauty brought together by a fake love potion.
Wichita Grand Opera will present "The Elixir of Love" ("L'Elisir d'Amore") Saturday and Feb. 14 at Mary Jane Teall Theater. The cast of five (plus a chorus playing peasants and soldiers) includes rising European and American stars. Patrick Hansen will direct; Margaret Pent, Wichita Grand Opera's artistic director, designed the production.
Donizetti's music is bouncy and full of great tunes. The opera's comic characters take no tragic turns. And on their way to a happy ending the singers showcase the "bel canto" vocal style of the early 1800s, carefree melodies full of heady flights and dizzying twists and turns.
"This is a real exhibition for the singers," said conductor Martin Mazik. He's principal conductor at Slovakian National Opera in Bratislava and has conducted annually with the WGO since his U.S. debut with the company in 2004.
"Bel canto is a little bit like sport — the winner is who is faster, who jumps higher," Mazik said. "There is something like this also in the story between Nemorino and Adina."
Nemorino, to be sung by accomplished tenor Otokar Klein, is a young man in love. From the first notes of the opera he pines for Adina, sung by Emily Truckenbrod, the lovely proprietress of a farm.
"There's a word in the opera — capricious," Truckenbrod said. "That very well describes Adina. She's very clever; she knows the situation better than anybody and is somewhat in control. She's very charming, clever — but also very romantic."
And she is not initially as smitten of Nemorino as he is of her and tells him so. When the dashing — and hilariously arrogant — soldier Belcore (baritone Michael Nansel) comes to town, takes a look at Adina and proposes marriage, Nemorino is devastated.
Then the flashy Dulcamara (bass Jorge Ocasio) arrives, his sample case full of patent medicines and a magic elixir that incites love. (Spoiler alert — he's a quack; the elixir is table wine.) Nemorino buys a bottle — then a few more — sure that Adina will now fall in love with him.
The opera untangles all this and brings Adina and Nemorino happily together with plenty of singing — solo arias, harmonic duets, plucky ensembles and rousing choruses.
The role of Nemorino is particularly challenging and includes one of the most famous tenor arias in the repertoire, "Una furtiva lagrima" ("One secret tear"). It's toward the end of the opera, and to a sighing bassoon accompaniment Nemorino reveals his inconsolable love for Adina.
"The role is difficult because you spend all your time on stage, from the beginning to the end," Klein said. "And at the very end you have this famous aria — and everybody is waiting for this aria. And even after two hours on the stage it has to be perfect because everybody knows it."
Mostly, though, "The Elixir of Love" is a frothy romp.
"It really is about the triumph of true love," Truckenbrod said. In other words, the perfect opera for Valentine's Day weekend.
If you go
'the elixir of love'
What: Donizetti opera presented by Wichita Grand Opera
Where: Century II's Mary Jane Teall Theater, 225 W. Douglas
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Feb. 14
How much: Tickets are $35, $58 and $85, discounts available. For more information, visit www.selectaseat.com or call 316-262-8054.