(Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
Developing the "inner linings of the characters." This was how Peter Gelb characterized the insight brought by director Bartlett Sher to this production of Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore just moments before the Live-in-HD transmission began.
Sher reframed the opera. Instead of viewing the plot as a collection of red-neck pranks and pratfalls he decided that the comedy saturating the opera could "hook on the spine" of the romance between Adina and Nemorino. This made all of the characters seem more purposeful and dimensional than is typically the case.
Sher allowed staging elements to develop slowly, like musical textures in the Donizetti style. The sets combined elements of painted two-dimensional surfaces and textured three-dimensional dividers, like the dried tall grasses that were pulled into place surrealistically as the final scene unfolded. "The more realistic I was going to make it in the acting," explained Sher, "the more it needed a two-dimensional quality" in the sets. "The music sounded better in painted scenery."
The principals in this production were enjoyable to hear. Matthew Polenzani stilled the hall in frozen amazement with the final phrases of "Una furtiva lagrima," and the HD cameras were able to maintain a facial closeup that was stunning. Thunderous applause broke out in the Met; but also in the theater in which I heard the transmission. This was the tear heard round the world.
Anna Netrebko was charming and I liked the big sound of her voice as it curved into this part. Ambrogio Maestri entertained as Dr. Dulcamara. Maestri is a patter specialist and gave this role an energy that sustained its wit. Mariusz Kwiecien amplified the dramatic elements of Belcore; in fact his Belcore was the kind of character who might have just walked off the set of Don Giovanni.
This production was a great start for this season of HD transmissions. There were a larger than usual number of first-timers (and many younger viewers) in the theater in which I watched the broadcast. Many remarked surprise at how insightful and entertaining the production was, and vowed to return. Live-in-HD broadcasts have developed visual swagger. The appeal was powerful.