Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Southern Comfort

April 20, 2007

William Burden as Nemorino and Olga Makarina as Adina
Photo: Opera Pacific 2007

I’m not a frequent visitor to productions put on by Opera Pacific, and perhaps I should be. But Orange County is a bit of a drive for another Boheme or Carmen so I pick and choose. This week, however, after a whole lot of Wagner, I was in the mood for a change of pace and their current L’elisir d’Amore sounded like just the thing. And it was. I find that Donizetti’s comic masterpiece is just as entertaining as Barbiere and it’s too bad it doesn’t have a broader reputation in and of itself. (Though granted it is far from being a rarity.) The production here was Jonathan Miller’s, borrowed from New York City Opera, which premiered last fall. It’s updated to a diner in 50s West Texas, a transposition that works surprisingly well. The setting provides a believable milieu for innocent big-hearted Nemorino and his coquettish paramour Adina that is simple, witty, and eye catching.

But no opera lives on charm alone and the selling point this evening was tenor William Burden. He was excellent here, giving one of those performances that makes you wonder why he isn’t a bigger name. Handsome, with a beautiful tone and strong acting chops, he lit up the stage and deservedly garnered the biggest response from a rather dead and not near capacity audience. It would especially be nice to see him in a cast and with an orchestra that better rise up to his level. Not that Olga Makarina’s Adina was bad, it was completely serviceable. Just not any more than that. Perhaps I’m being unfair in that part of my problem was her costume and in particular she was saddled with one of the worst wigs on stage. It seems to me that wigs may be the one piece of wardrobe that can be the most destructive in an opera. Here, the intended effect was clearly supposed to be blond bombshell. But instead of Marilyn Monroe, she ended up being a little too Shelly Winters instead. I just kept wondering why cute young Nemorino was so enraptured with the most matronly of all the females in town. Perhaps because she owns her own business? (In this staging, Adina’s Diner.) The orchestra wasn’t bad; though, I felt that John DeMain did let things drag at times, and that he and the production's Dulcamara, Steven Condy, were clearly out of sync on several occasions.

But all of these points are easily forgiven in a work as fun and breezy as this warm and witty production. Sometimes traveling South can be worth the trip. Here’s hoping LA Opera can pull off as successful an evening with their upcoming English-language Die lustige Witwe next week.

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