Editors' pick

Love Potion Number One

Classical
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Editorial Review

Review: ‘Love Potion #1’ at GALA Hispanic Theatre

By Cecelia Porter
Sunday, October 16, 2011

For almost three decades, the In Series has offered Washington audiences imaginative opera, cabaret and Latino-oriented productions cleverly conceived, affordable, open to the public and a step in the right direction for young singers. The inevitable economic ups and downs have consistently meant struggling for sponsorship. But Carla Hübner, the Series’s artistic director and founder, has persevered even with only a shoestring budget and continually changing venues.

An updated take on an adaptation of an adaptation of an adaptation, “Love Potion # 1” (or “L’Elisir d’Amore) opened the season Saturday at the GALA Hispanic Theatre (the old Tivoli movie house) in Columbia Heights. And a delight it was in many ways. Director Nick Olcott took Gaetano Donizetti’s comic opera “L’Elisir d’Amore” and changed the Italian libretto into English. (Donizetti’s text altered an earlier French libretto, itself a remake of a yet older Italian one.) But Olcott also switched the setting to a Washington high school as imagined in the 1950s, basing his shift on the characters’ motivations and actions, which he saw as more typically adolescent than Donizetti portrayed them.

The young singers were excellent in solos and ensembles. Soprano Laura Choi Stuart as Adina was agile in her many octave leaps, though occasionally under pitch. Peruvian baritone Alex Alburqueque had a booming resonance fit for Mozart’s Commendatore. Bolivian tenor Pablo Heinrich-Lobo (Nemorino) nuanced his voice with intense Italian timbres. Jarrod Lee had a seemingly effortless bass baritone and was well cast as the smarmy, garrulous Dulcamara. Laura Wehrmeyer was a persuasive Janet.

The chamber orchestra — a string quartet joined on the piano by Francis Conlon, the company’s music director — was dependably upbeat. Along with lucid lighting, the basic set design, a gymnasium, was effective and appropriate. And the cozy theater with its balanced acoustics lent itself well to the voices.

As accessible entertainment with professional flair, Olcott’s concept worked in most respects, meshing Donizetti’s exaggerated pathos with a comic sweep, pungent characterization and fast-acting staging. Yet the English language combined with Italian patter songs instantly brought Gilbert and Sullivan too much to mind. And it is hard to swallow the idea that these characters —1950s high-schoolers — openly voiced such passionate expression, especially in romantic involvements. But maybe Donizetti’s characters didn’t, either.