The Elixir of Love by Donizetti is a bel canto opera, except when it’s not. Sometimes it’s not bel canto and it’s just opera.
The most present understanding of bel canto is based on the size of a voice. Yet bel canto is not a size issue, it’s a style and technique issue.
Caro elisir! sei mio!...Esulti pur la barbara
If the style is there and the technical ability to perform the bel canto markers, such as mesa di voce, is there then the size of the voice is inconsequential so long as the entire cast matches. You don’t want to have a duet that sounds like a Great Dane trying to mate with a Yorkie.
Point Loma Opera Theatre gave a Great Dane-sized performance of The Elixir on Thursday night at Pacific Beach Presbyterian. Which is to say the puppies went on a romp through Donizetti’s comedic gem.
And what a romp it was. The opera was cut down to five voices but the wall of sound which these voices constructed would have made The Night’s Watch proud.
“I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards...”
Sorry, I got all Games of Thrones-ish there for a moment.
Was this PLOT production stylistically bel canto? No, of course not.
To my knowledge all of the singers are under 25-years-old. That means they haven’t been singing with an eye toward opera for more than five of six years. It would take at least that long again to become elegant in the bel canto style if the singers were indeed interested in pursuing bel canto as a specialty.
The performance was overflowing with joy and excitement and there were moments when the truth of the voices appeared. By truth of the voices I mean the voices in and of themselves free of trying to be opera singers.
If I have one criticism it is that some of the singers were trying to be operatic. It’s a rite of passage for many young singers.
I myself erred on the side of trying to make my voice as impressive as possible. Others err on the side of trying to be too precious and delicate.
The common denominator is in the trying. Both approaches are trying to be something they probably aren’t, based on any number of personal preferences and aesthetic influences.
Many voice teachers try to get singers to accept sounding like themselves. However, one of the most difficult things for a singer to do is be satisfied with the sound they are producing.
Singers always want more volume, or more refinement, or better diction, or more insightful musicality, or truer tuning, or more effective characterization — at least those who are in love with opera want those things.
There was nothing but love in this performance of Elixir and that was more than enough.