Author: Petr Veber
“Conductor Andrij Jurkevyč comes from Ukraine, but has been living in Italy for twenty years. Evidently, he soaked up the musical temperament there.”
“Petr Nekoranec, in the character of a maintenance man in overalls, always clumsily moving a stepladder somewhere, created the prototype of a nice figure with an unmistakably accurate play of the body.”
“Director Julia Burbach has shown that there are still ways to stage a classic appropriately, in accordance with the libretto, just normally.”
At the State Opera, the Prague National Theater has a new production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Drinks of Love in its repertoire from Friday. Two centuries have already passed in nine years since the premiere of the fortieth of more than seventy of his operas. However, unlike many other works from that time, this operatic comedy has remained alive and will remain truly immortal. Director Julia Burbach has now made an imaginative and significant contribution to this.
A comedy with a libretto by Felice Romani based on a theme by Eugène Scribo , premiered in 1832 in Milan, it is witty and funny, but at the same time filled with pure, beautiful feelings. Timid poor Nemorino has been suffering for a long time from what seems to be a vain love for the rich Adina. In the end, she tenderly realizes that she has troubled him unnecessarily… Director Julia Burbach in agreement with set and costume designer Herbert Murauershe set the Prague production in a hotel, filled it with grotesque elements and a lot of small ideas and led the singers and choir to play out the situations naturally. However, the plot is more complicated. An important role is played by the self-confident officer Belcore, the even more significant fraudulent ointment maker Dulcamara, whose “love potion” the gullible youth uses, and the main, but off-stage, Nemorin’s just-deceased uncle: his legacy will change everything from the ground up.
Conductor Andrij Jurkevyč , music director of the State Opera since last year, comes from Ukraine, but has been living in Italy for twenty years. Evidently, he soaked up the musical temperament there. The entire premiere performance on September 22nd had an audible energy, except for a few, really only a few momentary tempo disproportions between the stage and the orchestra pit were precise, positive and brisk. The orchestra of the State Opera played very well, the choir, blending indiscernibly with the ballet on the stage, moved and sang with evident taste. And the five soloists were excellently cast.
Soprano Vera Talerko , originally from Latvia and now “at home” at the Norwegian Opera in Oslo, gave the character of Adina the natural authority of an emancipated young woman who runs the company and has the upper hand over the women, she also gave her a bit of coquetry, but even more sincerity, compassion and genuineness . And singing? A sonorous, healthy, well-controlled voice. Tenor Petr Nekoranecin the character of Nemorin, a maintenance man in overalls, always clumsily moving a stepladder somewhere, he created with an unerringly accurate play of the body a prototype of a lovable figure, a little unfortunate, embarrassed and vulnerable, a little simple-minded, whom you unwittingly keep your fingers crossed for because you feel for him. He did not lose, not even in the moments when he got into the mood with the alleged drink of love, otherwise ordinary wine. With his unmistakable high-pitched timbre – and no less typical trembling – he sang with feeling, style and mastery. The officer, whom Adina pulls by the nose, was played and sung with a smiling conceit, comically but cultivated by Pavol Kubáň . Vincenzo Taormina was Dulcamara in the first cast, true Italian. The role should probably be sung by a real bass player, not a baritone, and it could definitely sound a lot more sleazy, but he sang and played everything that was basically needed. Magdaléna Hebousse , formerly Heboussová, as a junior laureate of the Dvořák singing competition in Karlovy Vary and now a student at the AMU, was sympathetic in the role of Giannetta.
The Brno production of the same opera six years ago was set in the sunny Italian countryside, in a film studio and in the 1940s. Adina was a capricious movie star admired by all, Nemorino a timid member of the film crew, Dulcamara a spirited actor and director, and Belcore a famous foreign actor, a confident conqueror of women’s hearts. The behind-the-scenes story was intertwined with the filming. The Prague production is simpler. Visually, it is not descriptive in any way, and yet it does not appear traditional. It is neither pleasingly folksy nor crass, but it is funny in some elements and even poetically lovely in places. And the blue sky with clouds should and does look idyllic. After all, Donizetti’s melodious, open-hearted and thoroughly loving comedy is actually…
It is based on Romani’s libretto, in which it is certainly possible to find archetypes from the commedia dell’arte genre, but skilfully combined with realism. Even the music is like that, oscillating between farce, heartfelt humor, lyricism and melancholy. It is not opera buffa, but melodramma giocoso, playfulness. This production successfully tries to do just that. On stage and in the orchestra.
Julia Burbach , debuting as a director in Prague, was the discovery of 2019 in the International Opera Awards poll. However, the list of her opera productions on prestigious stages around the world is no longer short. Donizetti’s Drink of Love showed that there are still ways to stage a classic without excesses, without transplanting it into alien and shocking new contexts, how to stage it appropriately, in accordance with the libretto, simply normally – and at the same time definitely not only and only conventionally.
Photo: National Theater / Zdeněk Sokol
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