Review: Engaging “Elixir of Love” at Houston Grand Opera, October 29, 2016

The Houston Grand Opera, as its 2016-17 season opener, imported director’s Daniel Slater’s production of Donizetti’s romantic comedy “The Elixir of Love (L’Elisir d’Amore)”. The production, whose sets were created by designer Robert Innes Hopkins for Britain’s Opera North, places the opera in the 1950s in a resort (the Hotel Adina) on Italy’s Amalfi Coast resort.

[Below: the wedding party at the Hotel Adina; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]


Dimitri Pittas’ Nemorino

As Nemorino, tenor Dimitri Pittas took on a role which he has performed elsewhere with distinction [see Dimitri Pittas a Sparkler in Lawless’ Deft “L’Elisir d’Amore” – Santa Fe July 4, 2009.]

There is a humanity inherent in Donizetti’s comedies that make them different from, say, Rossini’s farces. This is most evident in Nemorino’s great tenor aria Una furtiva lagrima, which should be the highlight of every performance. In this supreme moment Italian operatic romantic comedy, Pittas’ expressive, beautifully sung aria was warmly received by the Houston audience.

[Below: Nemorino (Dimitri Pittas, center) expresses his frustration at unrequited love; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]


Possessing an attractive lyric voice and engaging stage presence, Pittas easily conveys Nemorino’s sincerity.

[For my report on Pittas’ dramatic performance as the pacifist Michele, see World Premiere Review: Tutino’s Melodic, Melodramatic “Two Women (La Ciociara)” Makes a Strong First Impression – San Francisco Opera, June 13, 2015.]

Nicole Heaston’s Adina

A graduate of Houston Grand Opera’s Studio young artist’s program, Illinois soprano Nicole Heaston was Adina, the woman whom Nemorino aspired to marry.

[Below: Adina (Nicole Heaston, left) performs for the wedding party, singing a song whose lyrics were composed by Doctor Dulcamara (Patrick Carfizzi, right), ; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]


A personable artist with an attractive lyric coloratura voice with an appealing vibrato, she won audience sympathy with Prendi, per me sei libero her aria of capitulation to Nemorino’s marriage proposal.

Patrick Carfizzi’s Doctor Dulcamara

Bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi had played the rival, Belcore, to Pittas’ Nemorino in the Santa Fe Opera production cited above.

Carfizzi has built an operatic career that includes major buffo roles such as Mustafa [see my review at Daniela Barcellona Triumphs in Font’s Whimsical Production of “L’Italiana in Algeri” – Houston Grand Opera, November 3, 2012], intensel dramatic parts such as Paolo [Verdian Back to Basics: San Francisco’s Satisfying “Simon Boccanegra” – September 21, 2008] and operatic “characters” such as Dr Henry Kissinger in Adams’ best known opera [25 Years Old, “Nixon in China” Arrives at San Francisco Opera – June 8, 2012.]

[Below: Patrick Carfizzi as Doctor Dulcamara; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]


The role of the likable charlatan, Dulcamara, is a happy fit for Carfizzi’s comic timing and mastery of tongue-twisting patter.

Despite all his fraudulent claims for the snake oil he is hawking, it is its placebo effect – the impact that the “love elixir” has on the relationship between Nemorino and Adina – that resolves the couples’ “problems” and assures that the opera has a happy ending.

Michael Sumuel’s Belcore

The role of “Sergeant” Belcore is assumed by another Houston Grand Opera Studio graduate, bass-baritone Michael Sumuel. However, in Slater’s production, which is set on the Amalfi Coast, Belcore dons the uniform of a naval officer.

[Below: Belcore (Michael Sumuel, right) is surrounded by his fellow naval officers, who are ogling pictures of women; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]


Sumuel was amusing as the blustery Belcore.

Although Sumuel includes dramatic roles, such as Escamillo in Bizet’s “Carmen” in his performance repertory [see Review: A Spanish “Carmen” from Calixto Bielto, May 28, 2016], it is Sumuel’s comic assignments in operas of Handel [Graham, Daniels, Prina Excel in Elegant, Witty “Xerxes” – San Francisco Opera, October 30, 2011], Mozart [Review: Mariusz Kwiecien Excels in Robert Falls New “Don Giovanni” Production – Lyric Opera of Chicago, October 29, 2014] and Johann Strauss [A Feisty, Funny “Fledermaus” – Houston Grand Opera, November 2, 2013] that I find especially noteworthy.

Daniel Slater’s Production, and Cast and Crew

I have previously reported on British director Daniel Slater’s highly theatrical productions of dramatic operatic pieces of Wagner in Houston and San Francisco [Summers Leads Sumptiously Sung “Lohengrin”: Houston Grand Opera, November 13, 2009 and Jovanovich is a Joy in Luisotti’s Luminous “Lohengrin” – San Francisco Opera, October 20, 2012], and, in Santa Fe, Richard Strauss [Review: Penda, McKinny, Brubaker, Jagde Impress in Daniel Slater’s Psychiatrically Searing “Salome” – Santa Fe Opera, July 31, 2015] and Berg [“Wozzeck” for the Connoisseur: Richard Paul Fink Stars in Impressive Santa Fe Opera Revival – August 3, 2011]

[Below: Although the neighborhood women know that Nemorino (Dimitri Pittas, center right, in white shirt) has inherited a fortune, he, who has not heard the news of his inheritance, assumes the unexpected attention is because of the working of the love elixir; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]


This was my first time seeing one of Daniel Slater’s productions of operatic comedy, aided by the warm Italian spirit of British set designer Robert Innes Hopkins’ Hotel Adina. Belcore’s arrival on a motor-scooter and Dulcamara in a hot air balloon all contributed to a pleasant, feel-good operatic evening.

[Below: Nemorino (Dimitri Pittas, right) is waiting to hear certain specific words from Adina (Nicole Heaston, left); edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]


Conductor Jane Glover had obvious rapport with the Houston Grand Opera’s Orchestra. The chorus, under the direction of Chorus Master Richard Bado, and brightly costumed in Hopkins’ mid-20th century Italian fashions, sounded wonderfully (even though the chorus’ staging would occasionally border on the manic).

[Below: Doctor Dulcamara (Patrick Carfizzi, center, in balloon gondola, leaves the Hotel Adina, his love elixir having helped the relationship of Adina (Nicole Heaston, front, far right) and Nemorino (Dimitri Pittas, front, second from right), thus providing an opportunity for Belcore (Michael Sumuel, back, front position on motor scooter) to hook up with Gianetta (Alicia Gianni, on back of motor scooter; edited image, based on a Daniel Slater production, based on a Lynn Land photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera. ]


See also my article 21st Century Love for Donizetti’s “Elixir” that was published in the program of another opera company.


I recommend the opera, production and cast both to the veteran opera-goer and the person new to opera.