Opera's humor belies its splendor

JACI WEBB Of The Gazette Staff | Posted: Saturday, March 29, 2008 11:00 pm

If only Chris Johnson's eyebrows could talk.

The Billings native, who performs as Sgt. Belcore in Rimrock Opera's production "The Elixir of Love," conveys such snide arrogance with those expressive brows that it's as if they were speaking for him in this comedic opera. And we're left to wonder if they're speaking in Italian or English.

No one dies and the good guy gets the girl in Gaetano Donizetti's opera being staged at the Alberta Bair Theater. But don't sell this production short because it's funny. Tenor Jeff Kitto's stunning aria softens our hearts to his character, Nemorino, the village idiot. If the doofus can sing so passionately, maybe he deserves to find lasting love after all.

Even though we knew it was coming because the tenor aria is said to be one of opera's most melodic wonders, the haunting bassoon lead-in, giving way to Kitto's velvety vocals, is surprisingly stirring. And, as out of character as that amazing voice is, it alone is worth the price of admission. Pair that with other strong performances, especially Johnson's comical portrayal of Belcore, Alissa Rose's lilting soprano as the taunting beauty Adina, and Robert Aaron Taylor's fun performance as the snake oil salesman Dulcamara, and you've got one of ROC's finest operas.

Conductor Barbara Day Turner does a quality job with the 28-piece orchestra, made up primarily of Billings Symphony Orchestra musicians. While the plot is silly, the music is complex and showy.

What makes this production even more satisfying is discovering that all but one lead actor is from Montana. Kitto is from Manhattan; and Rose, Johnson and Carolyn Coefield who plays Giannetta, are all from Billings. Taylor, the baritone, who plays the cunning Dr. Dulcamara, is a native of Tennessee who performed in Rimrock Opera's production last fall of "Girl of the Golden West." He learned his complicated role in "Elixir" in just two weeks after another performer was forced to cancel his appearance here.

The plot is simple enough that even with it being sung in Italian, you barely need the English translations projected above the stage to figure out what's going on. Nemorino spends a good deal of Act 1 sniveling about his unrequited love for Adina and she, in turn, spends the first act teasing him. When Belcore arrives, women swoon and men shake as the arrogant Army sergeant stakes his claim to the prettiest girl in town, which just happens to be Adina. Just when Nemorino's cause seems lost, the snake oil salesman, Dr. Dulcamara, arrives to fix all broken hearts, bald heads, wrinkled skin, and anything else that ails the townsfolk.

General director Douglas Nagel took a few artistic leaps with the staging of this opera, at one point spoofing the opera itself by having Nemorino sing to the audience while resting his elbows on townsfolk as if they were mannequins. And while we're mesmerized by those bouncing eyebrows of Belcore's, Nemorino stumbles in and steals our hearts.
Contact Jaci Webb at jwebb@billingsgazette.com or 657-1359.


ROC's 'Elixir of Love' set to delight with comedy, romance

JACI WEBB Of The Gazette Staff | Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2008 11:00 pm

Donizetti's comic masterpiece, "The Elixir of Love," will be performed March 28 and 30 at the Alberta Bair Theater.

The Rimrock Opera Company production spins the tale of Nemorino, a love-struck peasant in a country village, who swoons at the sight of free-spirited Adina, a beautiful and wealthy landowner. It is sung in Italian with English text projected above the stage.

When a traveling peddler appears with an enchanted love potion, Nemorino empties his bank account to buy the elixir, hoping it will gain Adina's love. Unexpected results, which Nemorino credits to the potion, throw the characters into delightful chaos. "The Elixir of Love" shows that courage may be found in a bottle, but true love enchants without mystical intervention.

Gaetano Donizetti's captivating music lifts this light-hearted comedy to dizzying heights. And "Elixir" ends joyfully - no hankies needed.

Internationally renowned soprano, Billings' own Alissa Rose, sings the capricious Adina. Jeffrey Kitto, of Bozeman, debuts with Rimrock Opera as the passionate peasant who sacrifices all for her love. Belcore, the arrogant officer competing for Adina's hand, is sung by Chris Johnson, another Billings native who graduated from Billings Senior High. The devious medicine peddler, Dr. Dulcamara, is portrayed by Robert Taylor of the San Diego Opera. Carolyn Coefield, a Montanan now on the faculty at Rocky Mountain College, debuts as Giannetta, a village girl. Rimrock Opera General Director Douglas Nagel directs.

Long a favorite of Billings opera fans, Barbara Day Turner visits once again to conduct "Elixir." Founder and artistic director of San Josť Chamber Orchestra, Turner's baton will lead a full orchestra of local artists. Christopher Sheppard of Montana State University Billings is chorus master.
Opening night performance on March 28 starts at 7:30 p.m, and the March 30 show begins at 2 p.m. Tickets are on sale at the Alberta Bair Theater box office or on the Rimrock Opera Web site, www.rimrockopera.org. Also on the Web site, you can read full biographies of artists, and get more information about the show and Rimrock Opera's education and outreach programs.

JAMES WOODCOCK/Billings Gazette Music director Barbara Day Turner and the Rimrock Opera Company General Director Douglas Nagel look over music for their upcoming opera.

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