One smooth show

AACC's `Elixir' offers a mix of humor, opera set in 1930s Tennessee


February 02, 2007|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Sun

Italian 19th-century composer Gaetano Donizetti's The Elixir of Love proves smoothly transportable to Prohibition-era Tennessee in Anne Arundel Community College Opera's version on stage this weekend.

Artistic director and opera founder Douglas Byerly and his dedicated cast and crew have something extra to celebrate with this production at the Pascal Center for the Performing Arts -- the 25th anniversary of AACC's fine facility.

Judging from the large audience on Saturday, the 5-year-old organization seems well on its way to attracting a new crowd to opera.

Elixir seems the perfect choice to give artistic expression to AACC Opera's philosophy of creating affordable performances that are fun for both the audience and performers.

Donizetti's comic opera tells the story of country bumpkin Nemorino's love for wealthy Adina, characters who in the college's production become Little Nehi and Adna Mae.

It also moves forward a century in time and from an Italian to an American village. Adna Mae reads about Tristan and Isolde, classical characters whose love reached passionate heights after drinking a magic potion.

Baltimore Opera's James Harp, who supplied the witty English translation and serves as director, sets this version in the 1930s in a small Tennessee town, where tenor Little Nehi loves soprano Adna Mae.

Despite the arrival of government agent Bull Cairns -- who has come to clean up the moonshine business and in the process catches the attention of Adna Mae -- Nehi remains determined to capture her heart. When moonshiner and "elixir" salesman Doc Lunabrilla arrives to sell his brew to the townsfolk, he finds Little Nehi desperate about the impending wedding of Adna Mae and Cairns and longs for a magic elixir to win her love.

Act 2 finds townsfolk gathering for the wedding and a frantic Little Nehi waiting for the elixir to work.

After discovering that Little Nehi has inherited a fortune, girls are so attracted to him that Adna Mae is inspired to call off her wedding to Cairns.

Donizetti's timeless music is at home here; the humorous plot is more accessible in English. The composer is well served by the principals, chorus and orchestra in AACC's production. The leads must be commended for their flawless enunciation that makes every word intelligible.

When I caught Elixir, Joy Greene played Adna Mae, a role she alternates with Mary Anne Barcellona. Both are AACC music faculty members. Greene was vocally up to all of Donizetti's demands, and she proved to be a convincing actress.

Tenor Daniel Holmes, who is also on AACC's music faculty, seemed to have little difficulty producing lustrous high notes while conveying a dancer's easy grace.

Supporting roles were well sung by Frederick Rey as Cairns, Brendan Cooke as Doc Lunabrilla, and Ashley Bibby as Jasminetta. The chorus deserves kudos for producing a remarkably full sound.

The orchestra under the direction of Matthew Edwards provided a sparkling overture as well as wonderful support for the singers throughout the performance.

For aficionados who some years ago heard Luciano Pavarotti as Nemorino in a public television telecast of the Metropolitan Opera's L'Elisir d'Amore, it is unimaginable that we could ever hear another "Una Furtiva Lagrima" to equal his.

I understand opera purists' objections to the works not being sung in the language written.

But while savoring our experience, we should admire and welcome what Byerly and AACC Opera are doing to attract fans into this glorious world of opera. In all aspects, AACC's is a first-rate production.

Performances at Pascal Center for Performing Arts continue tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $15 general admission; $12 for seniors, groups and students; and $10 for AACC students and employees. Call the box office at 410-777-2457 to order tickets.

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