A magic potion that makes a guy irresistible to women — it’s the dream of many an awkward suitor. Like a lot of typical bachelors, the leading man of Gaetano Donizetti’s beloved opera “The Elixir of Love” finds his own “liquid courage” in a cheap bottle of red wine that he’s convinced contains magic powers. The University Opera Theatre will present a double-casted production of this vivacious work starting Thursday.

The Elixir of Love

Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 12 and 13 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 14 at 2 p.m.
Power Center
Tickets from $10

First premiered in 1832, “The Elixir of Love” takes place in a small town in rural Italy. The main character, Nemorino, is a kind yet naïve country bumpkin who falls in love with the beautiful Adina. When Adina rejects Nemorino’s romantic advances, he visits the traveling salesman Dr. Dulcamara and purchases what he believes is an elixir of love. In reality, the potion is a cheap bottle of Bordeaux, and Nemorino makes a drunken fool of himself. After a series of lucky coincidences and chance events, however, Nemorino finally wins Adina’s heart.

“It’s an absolutely charming and spirited work, and that’s what I love about it,” said director Joshua Major, a clinical assistant professor of opera in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

For this production, Major has chosen to set the action in the 1950s, a change he hopes will bring a fresh perspective to the work.

“I think the ’50s capture the spirit of the work, and it keeps the work fresh,” Major said. “It enhances it and makes it fun. There’s an innocence that we project on the period that works well with this piece.”

He went on to say that the change in era does not interfere with the opera’s plot and that it even allows for some exciting new elements, such as an onstage pickup truck.

Major also has high praise for the young and fresh-faced student musicians with whom he has been working as director.

“They’re open, they’re eager, they have energy,” he said. “They’re experiencing the joys of the work process for the first time. I love working with college students.”

One of these young singers is soprano Amy Petrongelli, a second-year master’s student in the School of MT&D, who will portray Adina at Thursday’s and Saturday’s performances. Last spring, Petrongelli sang University Opera Theatre’s production of “Armide,” but Adina is the soprano’s first lead role in Ann Arbor.

“She’s a very headstrong woman,” Petrongelli said of her character. “She knows exactly what she wants, and she knows how to get it, too. … And I appreciate that in her. So many times (in opera) you get lead women characters who aren’t ready to stand their ground.”

In the tenor role of Nemorino on Friday’s and Sunday’s performances is School of MT&D second-year master’s student Kyle Tomlin. Tomlin, who has been preparing for the opera since the summer, said that it was daunting at first to take on such an enormous role, but he has now slipped comfortably into his character.

“He’s really genuine, and it’s really easy to relate to this guy,” Tomlin said. “It’s everything you could ask for in a character: You end up getting the girl and you get to sing all the arias. … You really want to do this role, because it’s something that will come back for sure throughout my career. So it really pays to learn it now.”

“The Elixir of Love” is in the bel canto style, which means “beautiful singing” in Italian. This style of singing is focused on showing off the beauty of the voice through dizzying vocal ornamentation, stratospheric high notes and breathless legato passages — all elements that keep opera audiences engaged.

“When you’re dealing with a kind of music where the instrument itself is the star — in this case it’s the voice — that’s a special job for a conductor, because it’s my job to help (the singers) exploit their vocal gifts,” said conductor Martin Katz, the Artur Schnabel collegiate professor of collaborative piano at the School of MT&D. “If they do that exploiting, it’s kind of self-promoting, in a way, of (their) vocal gifts. Then the music comes right off the page and it really lives and has a reason to exist.”

Katz mentioned that one of the focal points of this particular bel canto opera is Nemorino’s mournful solo aria, “Una Furtiva Lagrima” (“A Furtive Tear”).

“That aria has never been less than a favorite all around the world since 1832, the year it was written,” Katz said. “Everybody waits for it. The composer has given the tenor the stage all by himself — he’s the only person in the whole show that ever has the stage to himself. … And it makes it into a real highlight of the whole experience.”

For audience members new to opera, Katz assured that “The Elixir of Love” is a favorite work of many — even people who don’t normally like the style. He went on to say that the romantic doubts and worries of the many characters will be relatable for college students.

“I think that if (college students are) telling themselves that they’ve never had these problems, they’re lying,” Katz said. “I don’t care how cool you are, there’s got to have been someone that you were wanting who didn’t want you. And what do you do about it? In this case, Nemorino drinks this cheap red wine that he thinks is magic.”

“But there’s something really dear about — not that he’s stupid — but that he’s so naïve,” he added. “That kind of pure belief is something that I hope hasn’t gone out of the world.”

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