WATERTOWN — Boston Midsummer Opera is a small company that stages just one opera per year, but it is quickly building a reputation for punching far above its weight. Last summer it scored a memorable success with Mascagni’s “L’amico Fritz,” and this summer it ventured toward better-known, and therefore possibly more treacherous, territory with Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love” (“L’elisir d’amore”), only to leave Sunday’s audience at the Mosesian Center for the Arts cheering on its feet.
On one level, Donizetti’s sunlit comedy is clearly robust enough to have stuck around for nearly two centuries since its Milan premiere. But not every performance brings out this score’s elusive mix of humor and pathos while at the same time equipping its stock commedia dell’arte characters with a sense of human warmth and three-dimensionality. This one did all of that, and more, thanks to a strong cast of singers under the buoyant, sensitive baton of BMO music director Susan Davenny Wyner.
Of course, the search for the perfect love potion is older than the art form of opera itself. In Donizetti’s “Elixir of Love,” it is the simple peasant Nemorino who wouldn’t mind some extra magnetism working in his favor as he courts Adina, a wealthy and beautiful estate owner who could have any man she fancies. Nemorino’s plight becomes all the more desperate when a new rival comes to town — Belcore, a dashing sergeant full of confidence and swagger, and, even more potently, dressed in a uniform. Fortunately, stepping up at just the right moment is Doctor Dulcamara, who for the right price, has just the potion Nemorino needs.
In Sunday’s performance, tenor Eric Barry conveyed Nemorino’s ardor and pure-hearted sincerity so vividly, you could hardly begrudge him spending his last lira on a sham draft of desire. And all the more so given the surrounding cast, with Joanna Mongiardo’s Adina delivered with style and luster, and Keith Phares’s Belcore, dispatched with vigor, suavity, and charisma to burn. With these two driving him to the brink, this Nemorino would hardly have required a skilled swindler to play on his desperate hope. But Jason Budd’s earthy, resonant Dulcamara had the entire village wrapped around his finger, less as a scheming snake oil salesman than as an affably Falstaffian rogue — the kind of fellow you suspect would be just as content merrily draining his own bottles of bordeaux as he would be passing them off as love potion.
Erica Petrocelli as Giannetta capably rounded out the cast. And sewing it all together was Wyner’s vibrant conducting and Antonio Ocampo-Guzman’s fluid stage direction. These two collaborators seemed to share a unified vision for how best to brew up Donizetti’s own elixir of delight: one part gleaming wit, one part rustic sweetness. Placebo effect? Not a chance.
BOSTON MIDSUMMER OPERA
“The Elixir of Love”; opera by Donizetti
Conducted by Susan Davenny Wyner, directed by Antonio Ocampo-Guzman
At Mosesian Center for the Arts, July 30