Elena Monti, soprano

Irony, Trickery, and Romance: The Enduring Power of ‘The Elixir of Love’
PLATFORMS - Pristine L. De Leon (The Philippine Star) - September 30, 2017 - 4:00pm

When we talk about the opera, it’s always Wagner or Puccini, or some lovely heroine gloriously dying in the end. We rarely think of Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti, or his work The Elixir of Love, or let alone how it ushered in romanticism in 1832 with his music. Theater in Asia, according to Prince Sisowath Ravivaddhana Monipong, is always rich in artistic expression, but there’s nothing like the opera to offer the whole shebang: action, dance, and music and some secret romantic message possibly veiled in Italian song — that even the greatest cynics among us can come out of the theater as happy converts.

“Without Donizetti, many operas and compositions which came afterwards would not have existed,” says Vincenzo Grisostomi Travaglini, the director of the latest rendition to be staged in the Cultural Center of the Philippines Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo this Oct. 7 and 8.

An opera in two acts, The Elixir of Love has been the most widely performed of the 70 operas composed by Donizetti, and is set to be shown for the first time in the Philippines. 

Presented by the Rustan Commercial Corporation (RCC), Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and The Peninsula Manila in cooperation with the Philippine-Italian Association (PIA) and produced by Nedy Tantoco, along with Nestor Jardin and Dr. Raul Sunico, the show gathers an international team of artists. At the helm of which is Travaglini, an established Italian opera director and musicologist, assisted by Monipong, Ambassador of the Royal Household of Cambodia. 

Maestro Ruggero Barbieri leads the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra. Mio Infante executes the original set design by Italian scenic designer Maurizio Varamo and Bonsai Cielo creates the costumes designed by Otello Camponeschi. Completing the members of the artistic team are lighting designer Giovanni Pirandello, and Anatoly Panasyukov from the Philippine Ballet Theater. “The dancers,” says Monipong, “(create) the link from one action to the other. They introduce something which is magic.”

The opera is shown in honor of the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Italy and the Philippines, as well as Rustan’s 65th anniversary and PIA’s 55th anniversary.

Rather than presenting more familiar tragedies the likes of La Traviata or La Boheme, wherein the narrative culminates in the passing of their heroes, the producers decided to present a lighthearted story wherein, as they say, love triumphs in the end — and the characters are still very much alive to enjoy it. 

“I think it’s an opera that many Filipinos can relate to because it’s very emotional ... I’m most excited about the fact that this is the first time we’re going to show this opera,” says Jardin.

Enter the lovely Adina, played by acclaimed soprano Elena Monti, telling the timeworn tale of lovers Tristan and Isolde — wherein the latter falls in love with the former thanks to the fabled elixir of love. An incurably lovelorn Nemorino, played by tenor David Astorga, is a worker who admires Adina. The story is set in a tiny hamlet in the Basque region of Spain, towards the latter part of the 18th century — when miraculous potions are possibly in existence, or so our main male character hopelessly likes to believe.

Dulcamara, a wandering quack doctor played by comic bass Francesco Vultaggio, offers Nemorino the eponymous bottle of romance. The plot thickens with the military man, Belcore, brought to life by the baritone Byeong In Park, who intercedes and attempts to win the hand of Adina. “But he’s like a sailorman,” says Monipong. “He has a girl in each port.” Further complicating the situation is gossiping Gianetta, performed by Filipino soprano Rachelle Gerodias-Park.

The Elixir of Love is “the turning point from the classical period towards romanticism,” says Travaglini. “So behind each musical joke, there is feeling or sentiment. This is the birth of the romantic character.”

Travaglini intimates one of the more romantic messages of the words sung in Italian: Adina, telling the hapless Nemorino why she does not reciprocate his affection, sings, “I am like the wind, the light, sweet wind.” “She doesn’t want to be in love with someone; she wants to remain independent. It’s very modern, rather feminist,” says Travaglini. Nemorino, however, responds, “I am just like the water of a river. I am born on the water and I am going until the sea. I know what I want, and at the end, it is the water who is going to win on the wind.”

While Italian words, though romantic, remain a little alien to a local audience, Travaglini explains how the music mimics the ongoing attraction between the two. Like a character in the more classical tradition, “Adina (employs) more bel canto in the beginning of the opera. Nemorino is at once in the sentimental part. What’s interesting in this opera is the evolution of the characters. In the beginning, Nemorino is the more romantic (of the two). But in the end, both go to that romantic summit.”

The most well-known moment of the opera occurs when Nemorino sings the romanza, Una Furtiva Lagrima, which supposedly was almost excluded from the original opera. “The librettist didn’t want the romanza to be part of the opera,” says Travaglini. “He said that this romanza interrupts the action. But Donizetti wanted it, absolutely. He wanted a moment of meditation to interrupt the action, and also to give more importance to the rising romanticism.” Many composers, adds Travaglini, would not have been able to create their musical works if it were not for Donizetti’s iconic romanza.

While the opera as a whole gave rise to the romantic sensibility, Dulcamara presents one of the opera’s greatest irony. “In the way of singing of Dulcamara, the accent is always on the third syllable. This is the way that most composers show the presence of magic. But he’s not a magician, he just wants to sell things.” Case in point, the miraculous bottle of romance is only, as it happens, cheap wine.

In the end, there may not have been real enchantment in the form of a mythical potion — just perhaps the eternal hand of Donizetti unraveling romance through the nuance of his music. Now, as it did in 1832, The Elixir of Love still works its magic.

 

 

 

 

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The Elixir of Love will be shown at the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo, at the CCP, on Oct. 7, at 8:00 pm, and on Oct. 8, at 3:00 pm. For ticket sales or other inquiries, interested parties can contact the CCP Box Office through 832-3704 or 06 and Ticketworld through 891-9999 or visit the CCP website via www.culturalcenter.gov.ph.

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