Donizetti, L’Elisir d’Amore
Donizetti’s l’Elisir d’Amore is in the repertory of two different Moscow houses at the moment. I do not believe I have seen it live in person since I saw it at the Lowell House Opera thirty years ago, so I figured I would pick one. According to the newspaper, the version at the Stanislavsky was being performed in a confused mix of Russian and Italian, so I opted instead for the Novaya Opera, which stuck with a single language (Italian).
If I thought this might allow me to avoid confusion, I was wrong. The director, Yury Alexandrov, was not German, nor did his bio in the program indicate that he trained in Germany, but must have studied enough German Regietheater, since he decided not to stage the opera but rather to demonstrate that, since he was the boss, the cast had to do whatever he told them to do on stage. The only Regietheater convention he left out was the homoerotic scene, but everything else was there up to and including the Chassidic Jew, who appeared in two scenes to inspect the stage, generally look disgusted, and to taste the (hopefully kosher) food at the banquet.
The opera opened and closed at what appeared to be a Renaissance costume party gone haywire. Nemorino seems to have been a tourist guide dressed in a track suit, leading a group of Japanese tourists, including an old lady in a wheelchair, all of whom annoyingly kept taking flash photos (which can be blinding in a dark theater). Once Dulcamara appeared, and until almost the very end of the opera, most of the cast turned into stereotypical Russians – the men were the sort of drunken slobs I see all over the sidewalks in Moscow, and the women were all dressed like the lowest class of prostitutes (not all Russian women are whores, they just seem to think it is appropriate to dress that way in public). Dulcamara dressed like a Russian oligarch – indeed, until his first cue, he was seated (in costume) in the middle of the audience, and I do not think anyone noticed him looking out of place there. Although he sang the role, he left the dispensing of quack potions up to some other mute character in a red bowtie and glasses.
Meanwhile, a lot of extraneous action was going on on stage, which had nothing to do with anything but was very distracting. Aside from the aforementioned Chassid, the old Japanese woman who opened and closed the opera in the wheelchair pranced around all over the stage (not in her wheelchair), doing everything from reading pornography to trying to eat leftovers using her hairpieces as chopsticks. One man stood in the window of a house overlooking the square and watched all of the action through a telescope. A little kid practiced violin in an open window. Everyone else scurried about, drawing attention away from the people trying to sing. As if to claim the spotlight back, the main members of the cast started contorting their bodies to move around the stage unnaturally.
All of this was a great shame, because musically it was a fine performance. Dmitry Volosnikov, in the pit, kept the music light, spritely, and fun – as Donizetti meant it – and the orchestra responded. The cast sounded great, particularly Tatyana Pechnikova as Adina and Oleg Shagotsky as Dulcamara. Only the Nemorino, Georgy Faradzhev, did not meet the standard set by everyone else – his tenor was thin, dry, and not overly pleasant. However, the staging was such a distraction that I left this performance feeling unsatisfied.
The director Alexandrov should be deported to East Berlin, or else at least to somewhere that still has a big wall around it.