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FHSU opera was a real crowd-pleaser

4/23/2014

Last weekend, Gaetano Donizetti's opera "The Elixir of Love," popular since its premiere in 1832, was performed by students and faculty of the FHSU Department of Music and Theatre.

Last weekend, Gaetano Donizetti's opera "The Elixir of Love," popular since its premiere in 1832, was performed by students and faculty of the FHSU Department of Music and Theatre.

In a program note, stage director Joseph Perniciaro modestly pointed out the opera requires a special cast of singers "not often found at undergraduate institutions."

Truth is, even professional opera houses sometimes have trouble finding "bel canto" baritones and basses. Sopranos and tenors rule supreme in this sort of opera -- "bel canto," literally "beautiful singing," actually means lots of coloratura runs, trills, and, above all, high notes. Given these hazards, a college performance is close to unheard-of.

Yet FHSU brought it off in style Friday evening, the performance I attended. More than one member of the near-capacity audience in Felten-Start Theater remarked it was a "professional" performance. Not quite, but close.

The scenery by Bruce Bardwell and costumes by Tomme Williams were well-designed and appropriate for the time and place (19th Century, rural Tuscany, Italy), but much appeared somewhat shopworn due to budget limitations.

On Friday, tenor Karl Pratt, on Saturday, tenor Luke Fairbank, performed the role of Nemorino, a penniless peasant smitten with Adina, beautiful and wealthy, performed by soprano Eriana Holle. Baritone Calder Craig played the soldier Belcore, Nemorino's competitor for Adina, and bass Max Haverfield was Dulcamara, "foppish quack" and con man.

The plot is ridiculous. Adina really loves Nemorino, but rejects him at first in favor of the dashing Belcore. Dulcamara sells Nemorino a fake love potion. After a number of totally irrational plot twists, all ends well. Adina and Nemorino embrace, Belcore flirts with all the village girls, and Dulcamara skips town.

The singers understood not to take themselves too seriously. They projected the right emotions, but mainly looked cute, like figures on a wedding cake, and sounded beautiful.

Karl Pratt seemed somewhat subdued as Nemorino and was up against it vocally all evening, but hit all the notes and never missed a cue. His terrible trousers possibly depressed his performance. Holle made the role of Adina her own. She acted well and had no vocal difficulty -- her high notes were attractive and on pitch, and her runs were clean and clear for the most part. Her wedding costume was becoming and intended to look sumptuous, but strings hanging from the skirt needed trimming.

Craig looked dashing in his uniform (all the soldiers were well-dressed). He was both convincing and attractive as Belcore, and his voice was perfect for the part.

Haverfield was too young and handsome for sleazy old Dulcamara, but played him successfully as agile and full of mischief.

Don't miss the Hays Symphony Orchestra Masterworks Concert at 7:30 p.m. May 3 in Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center.

Ruth Firestone is a supporter of the arts and frequent contributor to The Hays Daily News.