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Utah Opera’s ‘Elixir of Love’ to cast its spell

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Whether it be Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde,” J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” or Looney Tunes' “Little Beau PepÉ (Le Pew),” love potions have been wreaking havoc on fictional characters since storytelling began.

And perhaps there’s no better time to celebrate that tiny vial of ardor, and no better place, than early spring at the Utah Opera, as it performs one of Gaetano Donizetti’s most famous “opera buffas” (comic operas), “The Elixir of Love.”

“We’re really hearing Donizetti with some of his best, I think, with this piece,” Crystal Manich, the show’s director, told the Deseret News in a recent interview. “This is a very famous opera, and I would say that it’s an example of Donizetti reaching his musical peak of the composition of music and drama.”

Traditionally set in the Basque country, this production places “The Elixir of love” in early 20th-century, small-town America, and follows the innocent Nemorino (Aaron Blake) as he pines for the love of the beautiful Adina (Anya Matanovic). Adina however, has fallen for the handsome though altogether-wrong-for-her soldier, Belcore (Andrew Wailkowske), leaving Nemorino with less than a day to stop her from making the biggest mistake of her life: marrying the wrong man.

“I love this character of Adina, because she gets to be sassy,” Matanovic explained while discussing her upcoming performance. “She’s the love interest but she’s not your typical, young, weak, only-concerned-with-love type of character. It’s a lot of fun; she’s got a lot of layers.”

When asked how the audience might respond to the spirited damsel, Matanovic laughed, “I hope they don’t hate me. I think on paper, and if you play her literally, Adina could be mean. But Crystal and I have talked about how that’s coming out of an insecurity.”

Desperate to win the hand of Adina, Nemorino buys a love elixir from the traveling scam artist, Dr. Dulcamara (Rod Nelman), who tells Nemorino the potion takes 24 hours to work, which is just enough time for the doctor to leave town. However, shortly after taking the prescribed medicine, Nemorino is pursued by every eligible bachelorette in town, causing Adina to reconsider her naive friend’s advances, and Dr. Dulcamara to reconsider the legitimacy of his supposedly fake formula.

“The great thing about Rod Nelman playing Dulcamara is he’s a born comic genius,” Manich said. “He has an aria in act one that is very complicated. It’s full of Italian tongue twisters, and you can understand every word that Rod says because his way of expression is really clear and he’s a great performer.”

So how does Nelman sell a believable traveling salesman?

“You can get a lot of stuff from infomercials,” Nelman said. “You would think that people would eventually catch on that there’s no magic bullet, but deep down people really want to believe it. So people like Ducelmara come in and take advantage of that.”

And the tongue twisters?

“I enjoy the challenge. It’s a lot of work, but I’ll go for walks and people now probably just think I’m on my phone. Pre-cell phone, people probably just thought I was insane, talking to myself and repeating the same line over and over.”

Cast members hope it is not noticed how difficult their task is. Instead, they hope audiences come and enjoy a light, humorous love story with them as they present Donizetti’s take on that mischievous concoction in “The Elixer of Love.”

“It’s much more like a broadway show,” Nelman explained. “The characters could be out of any musical comedy. Or if you like situation comedies, the only difference is we’re singing at you, but the titles are right there. If you think there’s no way I’d ever go to an opera, try this one.”

"The Elixir of Love" will be playing at Capitol Theater on March 10, 12, 14, 16 and 18. For more information, visit utahopera.org or call 801-533-NOTE (6683).

You can contact Travis at tpoppleton@ymail.com.