Poor Nemorino. He is destined to be the one earnest, honest, down-home, square good guy in a cast of the otherwise colorful characters that people Donizetti's delightful "L'Elisir d'Amore." There is Adina, beautiful, playful and fickle, the girl he worships; Belcore, the dashing, sword-waving soldier Adina finds herself about to marry; and Dulcamara, a traveling peddler who sweeps into town hawking his stock of fake cures and love potions.
It's not easy to emerge as a personality in that company, but after a tentative start, tenor Nicholas Phan did a good job of it Friday at the opening performance of the Wolf Trap Opera Company's production at the Barns. He has a natural and endearing sense of lyricism, perfect for Donizetti's lighthearted melodies, and his voice has developed a new dimension of authority since his performances earlier in the summer that projected, convincingly, the love-potion-enhanced confidence that finally wins him Adina's love.
Bass Jason Hardy was a splendid, larger-than-life Dulcamara who found just the right balance of chicanery, opportunism and humor. He handled the patter songs with agility and clarity and both the musical and dramatic aspects of his assignment with a fine sense of timing. And, while baritone Aaron Judisch's Belcore seemed to lack the dimensions that might have come from more nuanced acting, he did a fine job vocally.
In this company of young and emerging artists, however, it was soprano Alyson Cambridge who, at this time, seems to offer the most completely developed package of operatic skills. Her Adina was radiant, vocally assured, dramatically subtle and compelling and artistically imaginative. Even amid a stage full of singing and dancing, she could sit off to the side reading quietly and be the most interesting person there. She was able to imbue long, pregnant pauses in her lines with the same intensity that accompanied her coloratura passages and, even when the chorus was most out of sync with the orchestra (which happened with some frequency) she was absolutely on the beat.
Director Helena Binder has given this production a sort of 19th-century Wild West setting, which works well, and Tony Cisek's single set and Kaye Voyce's costumes are low-key and attractive. Conductor Steven White had his small orchestra well groomed and paced things very nicely; had the chorus watched him more closely, the whole production would have been crisp and tidy.