Last night at la Scala saw the sixth spettacolo of Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore (premiered on October 2nd), a forgettable pastiche of directing duo sensation Laurent Pelly's & Chantal Thomas' take on bucolic kitsch that was presented with lackluster, uneven singing and underwhelming conducting. OC is on the record as a Pelly/Thomas cheerleader (really, consider their Florez/Dessay La fille du régiment -- does it get any better than that? WE DONT THINK SO!) but this entire new production was burdened with Jupiter's gravity, a draggy night that detracted from the Rolando Villazon comeback hype that should have made this run (sadly in the past) memorable.
Sandwiched between Anna Bolena and Lucrezia Borgia, Donizetti's L'elisir d'Amore is a sparkling-sweet landscape of love and misunderstanding ripe for comedy set to a libretto by Felice Romani. At its premiere in Milan's Teatro alla Canobbiana in 1832 it was an instant hit, celebrated for Donizetti's succulent score set to a lollersome comedic plot all wrapped-up in a happy ending -- it remains to this day one of opera's most audience-friendly blockbusters.
A technically perfect orchestra under the direction of Donato Renzetti slowed down the manuscript to an underwater pace, ploddingly thick at times, unrecognizable at its worst. The slow motion strategy was made obvious when Rolando Villazon l a a a u u n c h e d into his arias, taking everything at a safe pace. During the Second Act's Quartetto the tempo and direction was so lackluster that it came close to collapsing in sluggish inertia. Una Furtiva Lagrima, that breath-holding aria that shows Donizetti's remarkable skill of turning the thrills of love into melancholy/heartbreak -- in less time than a Ferrari Scaglietti takes to get from 0 to 60 -- was slowed down to the paces of a Hyundai lawnmower. It wasn’t a bad effort from Villazon, but one decent aria after a slew of mediocre ones doesn't mark the success of an entire performance.
Villazon started the night off at a low point with Quanto è bella, a mess of chaotic breathing, broken phrasing, and scooping -- at times like a vintage 78 being played back on the wrong speed, especially during Nemorino and Adina's duet Chiedi all’aura lusinghiera. His voice lacked nuance while preoccupied tackling the passages. He still has all of that charisma and energy from the Rolando of Villazon Past, but the voice is mismatched.
The overall effective costumes and scenes from the usually flawless Laurent Pelly and Chantal Thomas flaunted Italian countrysides (with a Midwestern flair) of Q-bert haystacks and Bramantean perspective-keen backgrounds and chorus dressed in late 1950s style. OC loves Pelly and Thomas for their effortless melding of hyperrealism with comic book/graphic art sauciness. But this time the stagnant, unimaginative direction was the biggest antagonist of the production and even normally-cool gimmicks that were blended with such an admirable light hand (fire, fireworks, vespas, a tractor, a schnauzer dog, etc.) sank under the weight of derivative direction and slow paces.
Unmemorable interpretations of each character vacillated from blah to meh in a skimmed misreading of Donizetti's protagonists. Vocally everyone was keen (Giorgio Caoduro's Belcore, Barbara Bargnesi's Giannetta, and Renato Girolami's Dulcamara) but character sketches were uninteresting. Irina Lungu's Adina was also fine, marked with a rich, sold voice and a good dramatic flair, but Lungu included, no one was memorable.
Uneven conducting, singing (even Chorus Master Bruno Casoni's insanely excellent La Scala chorus was uneven), and direction marred Donizetti’s comic masterpiece, turning a witty, sparkling multilayered sitcom into a provincial windbaggy narrative. And for their sixth night of this show at La Scala, there can't be any excuses.