Alongside the mighty warhorses of the operatic repertoire, Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore" may not stand very tall, but under the right conditions it can hold its own quite handsomely. Saturday evening at Lisner Auditorium, not enough of those requisite conditions were present during the Washington Civic Opera's production of the work, and the result was a pale imitation of the real thing.

With only four principal roles and a score that demands a thorough grasp of bel canto technique, "L'ELlisir" presents no small challenge. Tenor Gran Wilson (Nemorino) proved to be the only one fully capable of the assignment, with his pure tone and seemingly effortless legato. Soprano Jane Garzo (Adina) spent too much of her time hovering near, but not quite close enough to, the pitch, while baritone Alfred Anderson (Belcore) and bass Philip Steele (Dulcamara) at least had enough spirit in their characterizations to compensate for merely adequate vocalization. The chorus was generally weak and poorly balanced and, even through required to bounce and sway to nearly every bar, frequently had trouble following the beat. b

Andrew Wilk's stage direction was rudimentary at best, full of those inevitable, but easily avoided, cutesy touches that only make the opera seem sillier than it is. Richard Weilenmann conducted most of the proceedings with little imagination and nearly all the recitatives with little success. The orchestra, however, often made invaluable contributions.