Gaetano Donizetti may not have used 76 trombones in his score for “The Elixir of Love,” but other than that the similarities between his bel canto opera and the classic American musical “The Music Man” are somewhat uncanny.
The Lyric Opera of Kansas City will play up the Broadway musical connection when it presents the “The Elixir of Love” for four performances beginning Saturday at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Donizetti’s comedy of love potions, peasants and young lovers received its first performance in 1832, and is one of the most frequently performed operas in the repertoire.
But in 2007, director James Robinson, set designer Allen Moyer and costume designer Martin Pakledinaz set out to create a new production for Opera Colorado in Denver that would have special resonance for a modern American audience. The Lyric is renting the results of that collaboration. Moyer recalls one particular brainstorming session.
“I think it was probably me who said, ‘This just like “The Music Man.” ’ It’s about this charlatan, this snake oil salesman who comes to town, he meets up with the local people so he can fleece them out of money, but in the process of doing that he loosens them up and changes and enriches their lives,” Moyer said. “So we’re like ‘Oh, my God, this is like “Music Man,” ’ so we thought maybe we should do it like ‘Music Man.’ ”
And they were off and running. Moyer pulled a book about gazebos off his shelf and ideas for a set started to flow. It was Robinson’s idea to make Nemorino , the romantic lead, an ice cream salesman, and soon Moyer turned to painter Grant Wood, of “American Gothic” fame, for inspiration.
“Grant Wood, to me, has the right kind of naiveté that is appropriate to the piece,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be like Grandma Moses because that was just too simplistic, but there was something about Grant Wood that seemed perfectly right in the way his world looks. It’s not two-dimensional at all, but has a simple feel to it and the colors are so pure and beautiful. So I thought, ‘Let’s make it look like a musical comedy, too.’ ”
The visual element is important, but bel canto opera, as the name implies, is all about beautiful singing, and Deborah Sandler, general director and chief executive officer of the Lyric, has lined up a cast to do justice to Donizetti’s famously gorgeous music.
“The tenor, Norman Reinhardt, who plays Nemorino and sings one of the most beautiful tenor arias of all time, ‘Una Furtiva Lagrima,’ is wonderful,” Sandler said. “Our Adina, Susannah Biller, has a beautiful voice and is a stage animal. Patrick Carfizzi, who is playing the part of Dulcamara, was with us last year in ‘Italian Girl,’ and he’s a riot. And I have to tell you that I am so proud of our chorus. There’s not a director who comes to town who doesn’t say ‘You have a fabulous chorus.’ So Kansas City has something to be proud of.”
Moyer thinks that the combination of beautiful music and the idyllic Americana setting is sure to appeal to audiences, even those who don’t normally attend the opera.
“For people who have never been to the opera before, this won’t feel like an opera to them,” Moyer said. “The music is wonderfully accessible. It’s one of the most easy-to-like operas. If this score has any faults, it’s that there are too many melodies. You can walk out of the theater humming the whole thing, not just one or two songs. The music is thrilling. The whole opera is just lovable.”
The British-born Australian pianist Stephen Hough is one of the world’s greatest musicians. He’s made more than 50 recordings, many of which have won international awards. He’s an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music, the first classical performer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship and, according to the Economist, one of “20 living polymaths.”
The guy’s a certifiable genius, and the Harriman-Jewell Series is presenting him in concert Saturday at the Folly Theater.
Hough will perform a typically dazzling virtuosic program, which includes a sonata by Franz Schubert and music by Cesar Franck and Franz Liszt. He’ll also perform a work of his own, “Trinitas.” Hough converted to Catholicism when he was 19, and his music often reflects his faith. “Trinitas” was commissioned by the Tablet, a British Catholic newspaper, and is a meditation on the dogma of the Trinity.
“Music to Die For”
Maurice Duruflé’s requiem is one of the most popular settings of the funeral Mass. The Spire Chamber Ensemble conducted by Ben Spalding will give three performances of this work in three venues beginning Friday. Spire will perform the version for choir and organ with organist Jan Kraybill joining the ensemble.
Also on the program is a world premiere by Zachary Wadsworth and works that honor the memory of contemporary composers John Tavener, who died in 2013, and Stephen Paulus, who died in 2014. Tavener’s “Song for Athene” was made famous by its use at Princess Diana’s funeral and Paulus’ “The Road Home” is based on the American folk tune “The Lone Wild Bird.”
▪ 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 416 W. 12th St.; 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Community of Christ Temple, 1001 W. Walnut St., Independence; 5 p.m. March 13 at Grace Cathedral, 701 S.W. Eighth St., Topeka. $10-$25. Tickets available at the door or SpireChamberEnsemble.org.
Royal Opera in HD
“La Traviata,” Giuseppe Verdi’s classic about the consumptive courtesan Violetta Valéry, is one of opera’s greatest hits. You can catch a high-definition broadcast of a traditional production of the work by the Royal Opera House Sunday at the Tivoli Cinemas in Westport. Russian soprano Venera Gimadieva is making her debut with the Royal Opera, singing the role of Violetta.
You can reach freelance classical music writer Patrick Neas at email@example.com.