TCO ‘Elixir’ should prove aural and visual treat

EDITOR’S NOTE: Reviewer Tony Villecco attended Wednesday’s final dress rehearsal for the Tri-Cities Opera production of “The Elixir of Love” and heard the opening night cast. Performances are at 8 p.m today (April 30) and 3 p.m. Sunday (May 2) at The Forum, 236 Washington St., Binghamton. Tickets: Call 772-0400, or visit www.tricitiesopera.com.

Reviewed by Tony Villecco

The first time I saw Donizetti’s comic opera “The Elixir of Love” was in the ’80s, and Richard Leech sang Nemorino, the romantic tenor lead. He then went on to both national and international acclaim. I predict the same will happen with Tri-Cities Opera Resident Artist Kirk Dougherty. Make no mistake — Dougherty has the goods, and then some. Not only is he in procession of an exceptionally beautiful tenor, but he projects well, is a very capable actor and has stage presence to boot. The opera’s most famous aria, “Una furtiva lagrima,” was delivered beautifully.

Duane Skrabalak led the TCO orchestra , which played the lilting and frothy overture with aplomb. Particularly lovely were the spritely woodwinds that quickly demonstrated that this is far from such dark and brooding Donizetti scores as “Lucia di Lamermoor.” On occasion, there were bumps with coordinating the orchestra to the singers, especially in the ensembles, but this was only a rehearsal. I am certain these issues will have been corrected before the curtain rises tonight.

I had no printed program, so I apologize for any omission in credits, but let me say that the opera’s sets, lighting and costumes were lovely. Particularly noteworthy were the soft pastels of the ladies’ costumes and the evocative lighting and dropped scrim that opened the opera.

Soprano Julie Hamula has grown considerably since her Gilda of two seasons ago. She portrayed the saucy, pert Adina well, delineating her obvious love for Nemorino whom she initially dismisses. A sparkling, bright soprano, she managed the high notes (especially in the ensembles) very well but had occasional difficulty with her pitch.

Baritone Julian Whitley played the arrogant, self-absorbed sergeant, Belcore. Whitley also has a strong, warm voice, but it tends to thin out in his upper register. He seemed awkward performing some of the comedic stage antics devised by director Peter Sicilian, some of which served more as a distraction than an attribute.

William Roberts delivered yet another stellar performance as the “elixir”-hawking quack, Dr. Dulcamara. A fine actor, he shines in roles that let him ply his innate comedic nature. This can’t be taught; it has to be natural, and Robert’s charisma bolts off the stage.

Vocally Roberts was the strongest cast member aside from the tenor with his well-focused, powerful bass-baritone, and he all but steals the show with his antics. He has, however, developed a tendency to get “hooty,” or wide in the vibrato, in some of his forte passages.

Jennifer Groves made a lovely Giannetta in spite of being overshadowed by the ensemble opening and orchestra. The second act gave her more of an opportunity to show off her vocal skills as well as her acting. The Act Two quartet was particularly well done by the soloists.

Colorful, tuneful and engaging, ‘Elixir of Love’ deserves a regular slot in the repertoire and remains, rightfully so, one of Donizetti’s most endearing works.

NOTE: Dougherty, Roberts and Groves will perform both today and Sunday. On Sunday, Rebecca Fetrow will sing Adina, and Andrew Bawden will sing Belcore.

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