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Reflection: 'Elixir' Is A Bubbly Bel Canto

Rene Barbera as Nemorino and Susannah Biller as Adina
Ken Howard | OTSL

A few years – well, decades – ago, I happened across opera. On public television, I found America’s opera sweetheart, Beverly Sills, in “Daughter of the Regiment.” The performance was joyous, beautiful and fun. And the composer was Gaetano Donizetti.

Now Opera Theatre of St. Louis is presenting another Donizetti opera that is equally engaging: “The Elixir of Love.” And this one matches “Daughter” in actually fitting the oft-made promise of being a perfect first opera.

You have an easy to understand love story. Boy loves girl, girl ignores boy (seeming to fall instead for an egotistical hunk), boy resorts to desperate measures (the elixir peddled by a flim-flam man) and all ends well.

rene barbera
Credit Ken Howard | OTSL
Barbera's treatment of "A furtive tear" is masterful.

You have singers who make their characters come alive and do so in English, so the story is accessible. Plus, the story has been moved from Italy to the Midwest, and the backdrop looks as though it might have come from the engaging “Missouri River Country” book with a nod to Thomas Hart Benton.

You also have, first and foremost, glorious music.

Donizetti was a bel canto composer. That phrase means beautiful singing, and the voices at Opera Theatre Wednesday night did not disappoint. The notes were as effervescent as one might hope an elixir would be: light, yet well rounded; soaring, while grounded in the story.

Much has properly been made of Rene Barbera who tossed off high Cs as though they were nothing when he appeared in OTSL’s “Daughter of the Regiment” a few years ago. And his performance of “A furtive tear” was so smooth and so lovely, I didn’t want it to end. Barbera again reached the heights without seeming to work. As for his effective acting, watch those eyebrows.

But the person most often on the high wire is the soprano. Susannah Biller did not fall. Indeed, she floated.

There are only five more performances of “The Elixir of Love.” If you’ve always been curious to check out opera or if you love the bel canto style, don’t miss this.

Patrick Carfizzi as Dr. Dulcamara, left, and Tim Mix as Belcore enlivened the opera, filling over-the-top roles.
Credit Ken Howard | OTSL
Patrick Carfizzi as Dr. Dulcamara, left, and Tim Mix as Belcore enlivened the opera, filling over-the-top roles.

A Little Lunch Music

An added treat for opera lovers is the tradition of free concerts throughout the area, starting at 12:30 p.m. on Mondays.

This year’s offerings are

June 9 at the Jewel Box in Forest Park, Wells Drive at McKinley.
Featuring Elizabeth Zharoff, soprano; Corrie Stallings, mezzo-soprano; Matthew Anchel, bass; and Adam Burnette, pianist

June 16 at the First Presbyterian Church of Kirkwood, 100 East Adams Ave. Featuring Christine Brewer, soprano; Susannah Biller, soprano; Leah de Gruyl, mezzosoprano; aPatrick Carfizzi, bass-baritone; and Damien Francoeur-Krzyzek, pianist

June 23 at the Bonhomme Presbyterian Church, 14820 Conway Rd., Chesterfield. Featuring
Daveda Karanas, mezzo-soprano; Michael Porter, tenor; Andrew Kroes, bass-baritone; Andrea Grant, pianist.

St. Louis Public Radio is a supporter of the series.

Donna Korando started work in journalism at SIU’s Daily Egyptian in 1968. In between Carbondale and St. Louis Public Radio, she taught high school in Manitowoc, Wis., and worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the copy editor and letters editor for the editorial page from 1973-77. As an editorial writer from 1977-87, she covered Illinois and city politics, education, agriculture, family issues and sub-Saharan Africa. When she was editor of the Commentary Page from 1987-2003, the page won several awards from the Association of Opinion Page Editors. From 2003-07, she headed the features copy desk.

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