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ETSU to present romantic opera 'The Elixir of Love' tonight, Saturday

Jennifer Sprouse • Feb 22, 2013 at 2:05 PM

What if there was an elixir that would allow the person you are enchanted with to fall in love with you?

Nemorino, one of the main characters from the Italian opera “The Elixir of Love” written by bel canto composer Gaetano Donizetti, tests out a “potion” he buys from a traveling doctor, hoping his true love, Adina, will fall for him.

The opera, a romantic comedy in its essence, brings to life every emotion on stage, as character plots intertwine and unwind to a happy conclusion.

The Department of Music’s opera cast of 18 students at East Tennessee State University have been tirelessly perfecting songs and their individual roles for months, and will perform the opera tonight and Saturday night at 7:30 in the D.P. Culp University Center’s auditorium.

While “The Elixir of Love” is usually performed in Italian, Karen Smith, lecturer of Voice and Opera at ETSU, said their production will use an English translation by Donald Pippin, as well as a reduced orchestration, which has provided an intimate setting for the opera and its audience.

“In our setting, we’re actually setting this in the 1940s. It was originally set in the 1800s in Basque, so we’ve tried to update it along with that English ... translation that we’re using,” Smith said.

She said the cast received their scores in June and have taken the opera step by step, first with learning the music.

“They get their scores and we start to learn their music. They get individual coachings, they rehearse on their own,” Smith said. “We have ensemble rehearsals. We do actually have a class time that we meet and we meet a lot out of class time as well. We’ve been rehearsing the last five Saturdays.”

She said the group learned staging next and from there figured out costumes.

“We ... pull costumes, get sets together and the students help with just about everything. They’re back there now doing their own hair and makeup,” Smith said. “They learn a little bit about everything for the stage. We borrow most of our costumes from our Theater Department here.”

Tatum Spears, playing the role of the strong-willed, intelligent, educated Adina, said the class time spent rehearsing has been extremely helpful in building the cast’s foundation of the opera.

“We rehearsed pitches, staging, character development, all of the above,” she said. “Just doing that over again, as well as taking the time to practice on our own personal time has really helped us to really ... embody these roles. For me, personally, it’s getting past the fact that ... I have to sing a certain rhythm and really diving into my character. This character isn’t exactly who I am and it’s ... difficult to discover an alter ego throughout this process, but once you find it, once it clicks, everything is just smooth sailing from then on out.”

Spears said “The Elixir of Love” is her second performance in an opera at ETSU, and said she’s learned a lot playing a lead role in this year’s production.

“Playing a lead role now makes you realize how much work goes into it,” she said. “Donizetti is a very demanding composer and ... it’s a lot of fun to really explore my limits and to push my limits.”

She said the public perception of opera is usually that it’s boring and that characters on-stage are often immobile, but she said there’s a lot more to opera.

“They don’t really take into consideration the fact that there is a storyline behind it, there is character development and there is a moral to most of the stories and putting a sort of a modern twist on opera is what we’re trying to do,” Spears said. “We’re trying to get the younger generation interested in this sort of theater, because it’s not just standing there (and) singing, there’s legitimate acting involved and there’s some comedic moments in opera that most people wouldn’t even think about. The fact that this one is in English, I think, too, is very important because it gives the public a chance to really understand what’s happening on stage, instead of reading a translation in front of them.”

Playing Nemorino, John Overholt said the cast has had fun learning the mechanics of the opera.

“Overall, it’s been a great honor to learn such a hard work for us as undergraduate students. Donizetti’s ... opera is a very challenging opera and we’re glad to be able to do it,” Overholt said. “It’s a great educational experience, as well as a fun experience. Since this is such a hard opera ... we’ve had to balance our voice lessons and our classes and ... things of that nature. We feel that we’re getting better and better at doing these kind of productions.”

Smith said the leads, as well as most of the cast are music majors, but a handful of students in the production are not. Students from the ETSU Orchestra provide the music for the opera.

Spears and Overholt said they are excited to perform this weekend.

“It’s so fun to come into the auditorium, to see it come together with the orchestra ... and the props and the lighting,” Spears said. “It’s a magical feeling and I can’t wait.”

Overholt said he feels “Johnson City doesn’t get to see opera as much as ... we would like for them to and this is a fully functional opera. We get to put on a production that normally doesn’t get done in the Washington County area. We think that the entire community should be excited because it is ... something that we don’t normally get to see.”

“The Elixir of Love” will start tonight and Saturday night at 7:30. Tickets can be bought at the door for $10 general admission and $5 for seniors and students.

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