Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

All He Cares About Is Love

September 15, 2009

Giussepe Filianoti, Nathan Gunn, and Nino Machaidze
Photo: Robert Millard/LAO 2009

You never can tell, can you? Los Angeles Opera opened the 09/10 season last weekend with a show that I wasn't dreading. But I wasn't highly anticipating it either. Donizetti’s L'Elisir d'Amore is an opera it seems many opera fans love to hate. It’s light entertainment at best, to be sure. On top of this, the original selling point of this revival was a return engagement by Rolando Villazon, which, of course, he withdrew from due to his ongoing vocal trouble. He was quickly replaced with Giuseppe Filianoti and things seemed set until Ruggero Raimondi, the scheduled Dulcamara for the run, also pulled out the week before the opening after an injury. His replacement, Giorgio Caoduro, ended up joining a cast that included Filianoti, the Adina of Nino Machaidze, and Nathan Gunn as Belcore.

So I headed off to Tuesday’s second performance with a fair amount of doubt, but, lo and behold, I must admit I had a great evening. In fact, it was probably about the best L’Elisir I think I’ve seen. Despite all the substitutions, L.A. Opera has put together a first-rate cast. Machaidze is a rising star in Europe and was recently featured in a DVD release of Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette from the 2008 Salzburg festival as the doomed lover. But even with this recorded evidence, I didn’t think she would be as good as she was. Strong, clear, and with total acting commitment, she commanded the stage. Her voice has a lovely darkish hue that was both sweet and seductive. I hope to hear a great deal more of her - the sooner the better. Filianoti was a friendly and vocally engaged performer. He has a real Italianate sound and here in L.A. he was remarkable. And, although I sometimes sensed things were about to verge out of control for him vocally, they never went that far astray. And as for Gunn, if an eye-patch and handlebar mustache don't bring sexy back, nothing will.

The production itself is as traditional as can be. Directed by Stephen Lawless, it's set in a massive grainery whose giant rear wall has several doors and which raises periodically to reveal the large open field behind. It looks good, although it can be extremely dark at times. I found the overall lack of lighting somewhat peculiar, though I suppose it did have much more of a naturalistic feel than the alternative. The orchestra and chorus sounded very tight as well. (The chorus seems to improve by leaps and bounds these days.) Music director James Conlon was at the podium and, although I found his pacing a bit slow at times, it was very engaged. He also gave the pre-concert talk as has been his choice for the performances he's led here in Los Angeles. Unusually, these are becoming highlights in and of themselves. It was refreshing to hear Conlon give such an impassioned defense of an opera maligned as often as L'Elisir. The show runs through the end of September and there are lots of reasons to go.


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