Elixir of Love Review – West Bay Opera produces another gem

It’s been a quiet couple of months on the opera scene in and near Palo Alto. Good thing for the Opera Nut, since I’m just back in circulation after a week in the hospital and another week under house arrest as I recuperated. Nothing serious, thank you, and I’m now fully recovered – in the nick of time, since I have just seen four different operas in five days! 

Renee Fleming as Rusalka; photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera

Renee Fleming as Rusalka; photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera

Wednesday I saw the MetHD Encore performance of Dvorak’s Rusalka – good, but not exciting; I won’t write a review. On Friday, February 16, 2014 I attended the opening-night performance of Donizetti’s Elixir of Love – more on that later!

002 Bat pic

Saturday night was opening night for two more operas: Lehar’s Die Fledermaus performed by the Lamplighters in Mountain View and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly by Opera San Jose. Since I couldn’t be in two places at the same time, I opted for Lamplighters and saw Butterfly at the Sunday matinee. What a wonderful weekend – and how lucky I am to live here in Palo Alto.

003 8977 - L to R, front:  Adina with Nemorino, Dulcamara (center in red), Belcore (in uniform) and Giannetta.

So, about this magic elixir of Dr. Dulcamara. I have seen the delightful comedy many times, and this was the third performance in the past 4 years. In 2011 I reviewed Donald Pippin’s Pocket Opera production, and a year later Anna Netrebko led a stellar cast at MetHD. Pretty formidable competition, but I enjoyed West Bay Opera’s production even more than the other two.

Adina and Dulcamara sing the ballad of the farm girl and the senator; Jos Luis Moscovich conducts the orchestra

Adina and Dulcamara sing the ballad of the farm girl and the senator; Jos Luis Moscovich conducts the orchestra

I may be sounding like a broken record, but I am amazed all over again at the overall excellence of this small company. Every performance is a gem. For starters, Donizetti’s music is eminently hummable, and the plot is no sillier than most and delightful in its simplicity. The performers are all very good to excellent, both as singers and as actors. Ditto for the sets, lighting, and costumes. Despite the small stage the blocking is seamless. The volunteer chorus is outstanding. The orchestra enhances but never dominates the action on stage. And all of these ingredients combine and are so compatible with each other that the whole is even greater than the sum of its parts.

Dulcamara hawks his elixir

Dulcamara hawks his elixir

Among all the excellent actors and singers, Igor Vieira provides an extra dimension because of his extraordinary footwork. He is so light on his feet, throws in extra little dance steps, and his timing is split-second in synch with the music.

Dulcamara and the WBO chorus

Dulcamara and the WBO chorus

Once again I was impressed by the West Bay Opera chorus under the able direction of chorus master Bruce Olstad. These singers are all volunteers, but for both singing and acting they stack up favorably against any professional opera chorus.

Chester Pidduck as Nemorino; Maria Fernanda Brea as Adina

Chester Pidduck as Nemorino; Maria Fernanda Brea as Adina

Sara and I agreed that Chester Pidduck had an excellent tenor voice, but she thought that he didn’t have much range of expression as an actor. I disagree. Nemorino is a simple country bumpkin – and he can’t be expected to have complex emotions. Pidduck might or might not be a good actor in other roles, but I thought that he fit perfectly into the character of the nave Nemorino. I particularly liked his happy smile when Adina finally admitted she loved him.

The women find out that Nemorino is now rich. Giannetta (Mulley Mahoney) at the center

The women find out that Nemorino is now rich. Giannetta (Mulley Mahoney) at the center

Of course, if he wants to maintain any pretense to being a legitimate reviewer, the Opera Nut has to find something in the performance that needs improvement. I had to search long and hard to find anything to complain about, and the only thing I could come up with is that during most of Act I the supertitles were too dim to read at a glance. But even here, my “victory” was short-lived. I mentioned this defect to the House Manager during the intermission, and lo and behold, they were much more readable in Act II. I tell you, West Bay Opera is something special.

Nemorino surrounded by the women's chorus; Dulcamara (R) looks on in disbelief

Nemorino surrounded by the women’s chorus; Dulcamara (R) looks on in disbelief

Friday night’s opening performance was sold out! And I have never seen a WBO opening audience as enthusiastic as this one. The good news is that there are two more performances this weekend: Saturday February 22 at 8 PM and Sunday February 23 at 2 PM. But don’t waste any time. As of Tuesday night the Sunday matinee was about 90% sold out, and Saturday night seats were still mostly scattered. If you come Saturday, look for me in seat G2.


WEST BAY OPERA – 221 Lambert Avenue
Lucie Stern Theatre – 1305 Middlefield Road
Palo Alto CA” 94306 – 650.424.9999

Artistic Direction & Design

General Director: “Jos Luis Moscovich
Conductor: “Jos Luis Moscovich
Director: “David Cox
Set Designer: “Peter Crompton
Costume Designer: “Callie Floor
Projection Designer: “Frdric O. Boulay
Lighting Designer: “Kurt Landisman *
Make-up Co-designer: “Rande Harris
Make-up Co-designer: “Aviva Raskin *
Chorus Master: Bruce Olstad


Adina: “Mara Fernanda Brea *
Nemorino: “Chester Pidduck *
Dulcamara: “Igor Vieira
Belcore: “Krassen Karagiozov
Giannetta: “Molly Mahoney *
Giannetta understudy: “Kristin Genis-Lund

* First appearance with West Bay Opera

Except as noted, all photos by Otak Jump – arrangement and cropping by Philip Hodge.

This review by Philip G Hodge appeared in sanfranciscosplash.com on February 19, 2014.

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