Review: Opera Saratoga treats fans to 2 fabulous works

Review: This weekend, opera lovers filled the Spa Little Theatre to see Opera Saratoga’s two fabulou

This weekend, opera lovers filled the Spa Little Theatre to see Opera Saratoga’s two fabulous offerings for the season.

Saturday was the opening night for Gaetano Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love.” The comic opera, which premiered in 1832 with Felice Romani’s clever libretto, is wonderfully lyrical. The four strong leads anchored the production with big voices, which easily projected over the lively 21-piece orchestra under conductor Douglas Kinney Frost, and acted at a high level. Soprano Maureen Francis as Adina, tenor Brian Downen as Nemorino and baritone Gregory Gerbrandt as Sgt. Belcore provided the love triangle against bass Seth Mease Carico, who, as a traveling quack, provided excellent comic timing and a darkly timbred voice that enlarged his role.

Francis was a delight with a wonderfully lush, rich range in which every phrase was finished and burnished with sensitivity and intelligence. Gerbrandt sang conversationally with sly comic asides and used his height of more than 74 inches effectively. Downen did well especially in the famous Act II solo aria “Una furtive lagrima,” which he sang with much feeling. But in duets, he tended to make them soliloquies rather than interact with his partner, and sometimes he took so much time between phrases that he left open spaces, which Frost seemed unprepared for and led to a lack of synchronization with the orchestra. The chorus was energetic, well prepared and coordinated.

Director Helena Binder set the opera as a late 19th century western ranch, which Garett Wilson designed in a palette of warm earth tones. Lighting from Jeff Bruckerhoff was sunny. The large enthusiastic crowd seemed to accept this visual departure, since the story line could have been in almost any time period or place. Other shows are Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.

The audience was buzzing even before Sunday afternoon’s “The Magic Flute” by Mozart with Emanuel Schikaneder’s imaginative libretto. They knew they were in for a marvelous and magical show. Although it’s been more than 220 years since the work premiered, the creativity and imagination of its progenitors still amazes.

Lyric baritone Kyle Pfortmiller as Papageno led a strong cast that included soprano Natalie Polito as the Queen of the Night, whose furious virtuosity almost stopped the show in her famous aria; a lustrous Sarah Beckham-Turner as Pamina, tenor Vale Rideout as Tamino and wonderful work from the many Young Artists.

Alan Michael Smith’s costumes were sumptuous; set designer Garett Wilson’s creation was elegant. The orchestra under Curt Tucker was light but solid.

The only carp was that although the work was sung in German, director Nelson Sheeley provided updated English dialogue, which sometimes too often milked the obvious. Other shows are Thursday and Saturday.

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