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'Elixir of Love' wows Craterian audience

The Rogue Opera's Sunday performance of Donizetti's comic masterpiece "The Elixir of Love" at the Craterian was a stunning achievement under stage and Artistic Director Noel Koran.

His debut as director, beginning in 2010, set the bar high with Rogue Opera's brilliant "Marriage of Figaro" and a very satisfying "La Traviata" last year. This year's "Elixir" under Koran was even better.

Having recently heard the Vienna State Opera's performance of "Elixir," I was prepared to be disappointed, given that Vienna had world opera superstars Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon. It is not an exaggeration to say the Rogue Opera's staging and singing at times equaled and even exceeded the artistic standards of the famed Austrian venue.

"Elixir" premiered in 1832 in Milan, Italy. Still one of the most popular operas in history, it is No. 12 on the list of the most performed worldwide. Filled with hilarious moments, gorgeous melodies and heartbreakingly beautiful arias, it grabs one's attention from the start with the orchestral overture on to the final scenes.

The action in Rogue Opera's adaptation takes place in a mythical town in the State of Jefferson in 1939. The shy farmhand Nemorino, played by tenor James Callon, is hopelessly in love with the farm owner Adina (soprano Laura Portune). Nemorino, too shy to aggressively pursue Adina, hears her read about a magic love potion in the story of Tristan and Isolde. He dreams of finding such a potion to induce the indifferent Adina to love him.

The plot takes off when an itinerant medicine man, Dulcamara (baritone Igor Vieira)

(see correction, below), arrives in town promoting his elixir guaranteed to cure everything from impotence to warts. Nemorino thinks Dulcamara has just what he needs. Complications arise when the handsome, swaggering army sergeant Belcore (baritone Kreshnik Zhabjaku) and his buddies arrive in town. Now Nemorino has a rival and Adina has her hands full.

A beautiful soprano, Portune sings a most convincing Adina. Vieira's Dulcamara almost steals the show with his hilarious acting and wonderful singing in a performance that beats his counterpart in Vienna Opera's version.

Not to be outdone, Kreshnik's Belcore acts and sings better than Vienna's. Finally, Callon delivers the best rendition in my memory of Nemorino's final aria, the poignant "Una Furtiva Lagrima" ("A Furtive Tear").

A clear, sweet voice distinguishes young local soprano Amanda Gerig as Gianetta, a townsperson. Maestro Martin Majkut's skill and discipline was clearly evident in the precise timing of the orchestra and cast and in the beautiful sounds he elicited from the 22-piece ensemble in the pit.

The great ensemble work of chorus and soloists generated a special excitement that can be fully appreciated only in the more intimate local venues, such as the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, as opposed to the large opera houses. Watching a DVD or a televised performance cannot duplicate the effect of being present live in the theater and able to see the whole stage and cast's movements at all times.

The Rogue Valley is blessed to have such a high-class ensemble and Koran's international experience and ability. The excellent supertitles with English translations are standard for all Rogue Opera performances. The final presentation of "Elixir" begins at 3 p.m. Saturday, May 12, at the Grants Pass Performing Arts Center. For tickets, call 541-608-6400 or email office@rogueopera.org.

Don Morris is a freelance writer living in Ashland.

Correction: Vieira and Kreshnik's names were inadvertently switched in a previous version.