Lyric Opera of the North certainly comes up with plenty of comedy in "L'elisir d'amore" ("The Elixir of Love"), but they also carry off capturing the heart in their production of this comic opera, which is much harder to do.
Poor lad Nemorino is in love with the capricious Adina, a wealthy-land owner. When Belcore, a dashing military man, arrives and immediately proposes to Adina, Nemorino decides he needs a love portion to win her heart.
Dr. Dulcamara, a traveling charlatan, arrives in town claiming to have just such an elixir of love, and the comic stage is set.
The overture presents a charming prologue involving a young girl (Giulia Calland) and boy (Oliver Hansen-Gum) that pays dividends several times later in the opera.
Tenor Gennard Lombardozzi's chief asset as the slouched-shouldered sad sack Nemorino is his earnestness when he begs Adina to put off her marriage until the next day in "Adina, credimi." His plaintive "Una furtiva lagrima" in Act 2 evoked appreciative murmurs from the audience.
As Adina, soprano Sarah Lawrence carries off the same transmutation, starting with her spirited defense of love over magic to Dulcamara and culminating when she strips Adina of all affection in a sublime "Prendi, per me sei libero."
After scoring as Leporello in his LOON debut in "Don Giovanni," baritone Lee Gregory delivers another stellar performance as the flamboyant Belcore, a sergeant who dresses like he should be leading a company of Hussars and not a rag-tag collection of misfits in uniform.
In a carriage that would be the envy of Signor Pirelli, Ron Nelman makes a grand entrance as Dr. Dulcamara to sell his magic potions ("Udite, udito, o rustici"). I think the bass has more duets with the soprano and tenor than Nemorino and Adina have with each other.
Supertitles projected above the stage translate the Italian libretto. Knowing the lyrics is critical for catching the humor in arias like Belcore's "Come Paride vezzoso" or the ironic subtext in Dulcamara and Adina's barcarolle "lo son ricco e tu sei bella."
The concern is that director Bradley Greenwald and the cast of 33 have come up with more shtick than you can shake a stick at, so you would hate to be reading supertitles and miss the fun stuff happening on stage.
Having the orchestra pit in the middle of the stage being uncovered certainly helps in hearing the 26 musicians under conductor Dirk Meyer's baton.
Also sounding great was the chorus, especially in "Saria possibile?" where Gianetta (Jennier LeDoux) and the ladies unwittingly help set up the happy ending.
Finally, remember when opera in Duluth was performed in front of black curtains?
Ann Gumpper's impressive scenic design has a tree with a massive trunk in front of detailed buildings behind which there is a cutout of the rest of the 19th century Basque village and a backdrop of blue sky with wispy clouds.
I might argue this is more set than the production needs, but I also have to admit it is certainly the set this production deserves.
IF YOU GO
What: "L'elisir d'amore" by Gaetano Donizetti & Felice Romani
Where: Marshall Performing Arts Center, UMD
When: 3 p.m., Sunday
Tickets: Start at $37, available at (218) 464-0922 or at loonopera.org