It’s hard not to imagine Jonathan Miller as a living incarnation of L’Elisir d’Amore’s Doctor Dulcamara. Like Donizetti’s itinerant shyster, Miller breezes into an opera house with a flourish, bringing with him his knighthood, medicinal background and reputation for being—in Dulcamara’s own words—a Dr. Encyclopedia. And for some audiences, Miller’s operas (the most famous of which perhaps being the Mafioso Rigoletto set in 1950s Little Italy) are on par with the questionable wares peddled by Dulcamara.
Still, you have to give all due praise to Miller for his reimagining of L’Elisir for New York City Opera. Like his Rigoletto, Miller re-sets L’Elisir to the mid-20th Century, this time off a Southwestern highway evocative of an Edward Hopper painting.
Well-received upon its company premiere in 2006, the production makes a welcome return on Tuesday, March 22, kicking off New York City Opera’s spring season. Forward-thinking general manager and artistic director George Steel has stocked his first two seasons with the company with an esoteric array, including in this season alone Leonard Bernstein’s A Quiet Place and Richard Strauss’s Intermezzo, Steven Schwartz’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon and a triple-bill of operas by Schoenberg, John Zorn and Morton Feldman. Though the rare birds of operas are gems unto themselves, it’s gratifying to see the company recognize its signature flair for new twists on old classics.
Even more anticipatory in this production are several City Opera debuts. Baritone José Adán Pérez—who, like Miller, has a background in the sciences—sets foot on the David H. Koch Theatre’s stage for the first time in the swaggering role of Belcore and soprano Meredith Lustig steps into Gianettia’s kitten-heeled shoes. Perhaps most promising, however, is tenor David Lomeli’s maiden voyage with City Opera as the lovesick Nemorino. In a video from 2009, Lomeli sings the opera’s signature tenor aria with a warm, honeyed tone that comes on as strong as an after-dinner liqueur.
Lomeli is paired with the striking soprano Stefania Dovhan, last heard at City Opera as Donna Anna, in 2009’s Don Giovanni. Also making a welcome return to the house is baritone Marco Nistico as Dulcamara. Miller may have sold audiences some snake oil before, but we’re banking on some true magic in this Elixir.