NEW YORK, N.Y. – Sgt. Belcore doesn’t get the girl in Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore” (“The Elixir of Love”), but Davide Luciano is OK with that.
The Italian baritone is making his Metropolitan Opera (and U.S.) debut as the “other man” who threatens to take the heroine, Adina, away from the bumbling peasant Nemorino. This being a comedy, true love triumphs in the end, and Belcore happily turns his attentions elsewhere.
Though the character is basically a stock figure of the vainglorious soldier who imagines his uniform makes him irresistible to women, Luciano sees Belcore as “a man with some psychological complexity.”
“He needs to show his power to conquer the women,” Luciano said in an interview. “He’s an arrogant man, but he wants to appear gallant. In the end he looks silly, but he’s not so bad. He’s a good guy.”
Belcore’s role is somewhat overshadowed by the other three principals in the opera — the two lovers and Dr. Dulcamara, the quack who peddles his fake love potion (cheap red wine) to Nemorino. That doesn’t bother Luciano a bit.
“At 31, it’s the right role for me as a debut,” he said. “Because Belcore is an important role, but he doesn’t sing too much. It gives me time to enjoy being onstage!”
And he’ll soon have more time: The Met has engaged Luciano to return in future seasons as Schaunard in Puccini’s “La Boheme” and as Dandini in Rossini’s “La Cenerentola.”
“L’Elisir” will be broadcast to movie theatres worldwide Saturday as part of the Met’s “Live in HD” series. Soprano Pretty Yende stars as Adina, with tenor Matthew Polenzani repeating his performance as Nemorino from the production’s 2012 premiere, and bass Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Dulcamara. Domingo Hindoyan conducts.
Vocally, Luciano said the challenge of Belcore is to “keep the shape of the line, the elegance, without losing the comic spirit. There is the temptation to overdo it because he always wants to show his power.”
The critics agreed that Luciano met the challenge nicely. James Jorden wrote in The Observer that his “crisp, rangy baritone … caught the ear from the very first phrases of his opening aria.”
THAT FURTIVE TEAR
Also sure to catch the listener’s ear is the opera’s most famous aria, “Una furtiva lagrima” (“A furtive tear”), sung by Nemorino late in Act 2. The aria — which Donizetti added to the score over his librettist’s objections — would not on the surface seem a natural showstopper. There are no difficult high notes (the highest is A natural) and the ornamentation is modest by bel canto standards. Still, the wistful beauty of the melody, first introduced by solo bassoon, and the modulation from minor key to major as Nemorino realizes Adina really loves him, have long made it a favourite of tenors — and audiences.
Polenzani follows in a long line of distinguished artists who have performed the aria at the Met, starting with Enrico Caruso, who sang at the work’s Met premiere in 1904 and gave a total of 32 performances in the role. That record was surpassed by Luciano Pavarotti, who sang it an astonishing 49 times. Of Pavarotti’s colleagues among the Three Tenors, Jose Carreras sang it three times, but Placido Domingo never performed in the opera on the Met’s stage.
WHERE TO SEE IT
“L’Elisir d’Amore” will be shown Saturday starting at noon Eastern. A list of theatres can be found at the Met’s website: www.metopera.org/hd. In the United States, it will be repeated on Wednesday, Feb. 14, at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. local time.