Yemi Falodun | Staff Writer
Opera director John Giampietro concocts a sweet and wild elixir with a cinematic twist.
The early 19th century comic opera L’elisir d’amore, by Gaetano Donizetti, comes to life at 7:30 p.m. tonight and Thursday in Fletcher Music Hall.
“We fall in love with the cinema,” Giampietro said about updating the opera to modern times. “And that’s our idea of romance. And that’s what we aspire to; it’s our ideal.”
In the opera, protagonist Nemorino seeks his dream lady, Adina, who goes through the whole performance never really recognizing the love that is right next to her.
“In reality, where is the love?” Giampietro said. “It’s right there. It’s around us. It exists in our daily lives, maybe sometimes in the mundane, and we tend to ignore it.”
And Giampietro, who teaches acting for singers at The Juilliard School’s Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, wants to explore that idea through a cinematic scope.
“Adina is someone who’s in love with film so much,” Giampietro said. “But she ignores the love that exists around her.”
World renowned conductor and pianist Sir Richard Alan Bonynge assists Giampietro by providing extensive knowledge of the Bel Canto style opera.
“To convince the young ones not to get up and shout their heads off is very difficult,” Bonynge said. “The more they shout, the worse they sound.”
It is Bonynge’s first trip to Chautauqua, but his name and expertise are known throughout the globe.
“I want the singers to focus on phrasing,” Bonynge explained. “They’re not just here to sing; they’re here to make music.”
There will be two different casts for the two opera performances.
“We worked very hard on bring out everyone’s individuality,” Giampietro said. “And we want it to be different and try not to fit them into one mold. I think it is more interesting and richer, if we see part of them in the role.”
The staging, set and story are the same, but the actors’ interpretations are different.
Alexander Lewis, 29, will take the lead tenor role, bringing a different perspective and presence.
“I would like to think I bring a lot of honesty,” Lewis said. “I am very physically active person when I perform. I can be a little bit of a loose cannon on stage; I can get a little wild and a little crazy.”
But Lewis, who studies under Marlena Malas as a Lindemann Young Artist at the Metropolitan Opera, will not depend solely on energy to win Adina over, or the crowd for that matter.
“Traditionally, Nemorino is described as a simpleton and intelligent,” Lewis said. “But to me, that’s wrong — he’s got some of the most beautiful lyrics in the opera. A couple of moments, the metaphors that he uses to describe how he feels about Adina are absolutely gorgeous.”
Lewis sees Nemorino representing more than just a sucker for love.
“I see him as kind of an artistic soul that lives in his own naïve, creative, beautiful world,” Lewis said. “At times, he struggles to interact with other people.”
The cast members each bring their own personal touches to the performance.
Elizabeth Zharoff, who plays Adina’s soprano role opposite of Lewis, brings a similar force.
“We are both slightly intense people,” Lewis said. “So, there are some beautifully sweet and endearing moments dramatically. But they’re some feisty little moments. There might be a food fight.”
Raquel Gonzalez, 22, reads Adina a little differently.
“I think there’s a misconception about her that she’s mean or cruel,” Gonzalez, who also studies under Malas, said. “And that’s what I honestly thought when I first looked at the character. But the more you get to know her, I think she’s playful and she really loves. And seeing the transformation through the opera, watching her acknowledge her love for Nemorino, is really beautiful.”
At one point during rehearsals, Alexander, who performs Wednesday night, shared the stage with Raquel, who performs Thursday night.
“That was really interesting, because they had never been on stage before,” Giampietro said. “And in one sense, it was actually free and liberating. Everyone sort of knew it was new and unique, so let’s just sort of dive into this.”
Giampietro added that there was some electricity on the stage, which was very different from the others.
Gonzalez and Lewis both credit Giampietro for conveying the opera’s emotions and message.
“I think he’s really doing a fantastic job of making it a real, relatable story,” Gonzalez said.
“He’s been working with us on the stylistic traditions, ways we can bring a charming piece to life,” Lewis said about Giampietro’s dramatic interpretation.
“I’m a teacher as well as a director,” Giampietro said. “I work in a very a collaborative way with the actors. I demand their input and their ideas, so it develops organically from their own creativity. And that’s when it can become really beautiful and powerful.”
L’elisir d’amore is about the fanaticism and follies of romance and how to embrace it when the moment calls for it.
“It’s not making any great political statements,” Lewis said. “It’s not asking anyone to change their lives. It’s a gorgeous fun, lighthearted story, so it’s really entertainment on an operatic scale.”