There really is an elixir that makes people fall in love, and it’s called… Bordeaux wine. That’s what the charlatan says in Gaetano Donizetti’s opera The elisir of love (The elixir of love) sells to an amorous and unsuspecting peasant, Nemorino. To the latter’s surprise, it works!
The story that happily ends Elixir, created in 1832, is actually much more complicated, nuanced and moving. Audiences can experience the emotional journey of this opera in four performances from August 12 at the Unadilla Theater in Marshfield.
The production features a cast of five professional Vermont singers and a community choir of eight. Directed by Montpelier bass Erik Kroncke, who sings Doctor Dulcamara, it stars Burlington tenor Adam Hall as Nemorino opposite Northfield soprano Lillian Broderick as his lover, the wealthy landlady of the close Adina. Mason Jarboe, a baritone from Rutland, plays the boastful Sergeant Belcore, and soprano Erin McIntyre, from Montpellier, sings the peasant girl Giannetta. Musical director and vocal coach Mary Jane Austin provides piano accompaniment.
The opera will be sung in Italian. In a phone call, Kroncke said he was working on English surtitles but could not promise them, given the production’s four-week preparation time.
Unadilla, a bucolic summer spot with two theaters and a picnic lawn, often features Gilbert and Sullivan operettas alongside its dramatic fare. Kroncke and Austin have taken part in seven of these operas since 2012, including this year’s Iolanthe.
The opera is rarer for the place. Unadilla founder Bill Blachly, now in his nineties, applied for one in 2013, and Kroncke and Austin agreed along with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The Abduction of the Seraglio, giving Kroncke his first directing gig. Blachly requested another opera just before the pandemic hit in 2020, leaving Elixir suspended so far.
Both Austin and Kroncke have long experience with Elixir. The opera was the first Austin accompanied, in the mid-1990s, at the Ezio Pinza Council for American Opera Singers in Italy while a graduate student at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. In 2018, Austin toured Vermont with the Opera Company of Middlebury production. Kroncke sang Elixir with the New Jersey Association of Verismo Opera and with EPCASO.
Austin said over the phone that she, Kroncke and Blachly chose Elixir “Not just because it’s one of my favorites, but because of the spirit of this opera. It’s a comedy, but it’s also…about the power of love – even in as a placebo effect. It’s “a wonderful thing [for audiences] after being emotionally drained by the pandemic,” she added.
The couple brought in a protegee and returned to Vermonter to sing Adina. Broderick, who just sang the lead role in Iolanthegrew up in Plainfield and studied voice with Kroncke and voice coaching with Austin since age 16. She earned her master’s degree in opera performance at the University of Kentucky Opera Theater, completing the final months of the program in Vermont after the pandemic hit. .
Broderick describes her role as Adina as “really different from other operatic heroines. Most roles in the operatic soprano repertoire are usually victimized or abused, but Adina really runs the whole village”.
The opera’s most recognizable aria, Broderick added, is also “one of the most famous opera arias of all time.” This is Nemorino’s “Una furtiva lagrima”, or “A furtive tear”, in which he expresses the hope that Adina has finally fallen in love with him.
Unadilla’s production arrives just in time to fill an upcoming void. Opera Company of Middlebury has given audiences 19 years of exceptional and often entertaining productions. He recently announced that he had canceled his September opera, Orpheus and Eurydice by Christoph Willibald Gluck, due to financial difficulties.
The company’s notice on its website reads: “We have invested our limited resources in dozens of productions over the past two decades, but in recent months our resources and staff have reached a point a break.” Artistic director Doug Anderson wrote in an email that a more definitive statement from the board was pending.
Cost is a pressing issue for most local performing arts organizations. Kroncke maintains them through basic, traditional staging and a small cast who will provide some of their own costumes.
“I don’t have any big gadgets – except [the fact that] it is an opera that takes place in a field of cows. We’re going to make good music out of it,” he said.