For the next three weekends the best entertainment deal in SoCal is the Pacific Opera Project’s production of L’elisir d’amore by Donizetti in 1832. It’s at the tiny but acoustically resonant Ebell Club in Highland Park between downtown and Pasadena. The Elixir of Love is a comic opera, or “jocose melodrama,” about a traveling quack snake oil salesman who sells a love potion that actually … works … because it’s alcohol.
The Elixir of Love is the 13th most popular opera in the world in the 21st Century, so you’re getting the good stuff that people really like, not something you are supposed to watch for edification’s sake (like POP’s recent production of Stravinsky and Auden’s The Rake’s Progress).
I saw a production of The Elixir in Chicago about 25 years ago that was exceptionally realistic because it was set in a Prohibition Era dry county in Kansas where nobody was familiar with the effects of liquor. Greg Cochran has perused a Merck manual from a 110 years ago and noted that this vast pharmaceutical conglomerate was based on a lot of elixirs that, admittedly, wouldn’t cure what ails you but would make you feel better for about an hour because they were mostly alcohol, if not cocaine.
POP’s production, however, is set in a 1950s malt shop with Nemorino as a lachrymose soda jerk in love with the Peggy Sueish Adina. He is aided in his quest by the Little Richard-like Dr Dulcamara in his struggle for Adina’s heart versus The Fonz/Biff Tannenish Sgt. Belcore.
It’s sung in Italian with the English supertitles drawn from countless 1950s songs. POP’s impresario Josh Shaw sometimes writes a new English libretto for the singers, but other times POP lets the singers sing in the original Italian while it projects above the set a comic pseudo-translation in English. Thus, Dr. Dulcamara’s aria might get translated as, say:
I went to the dress rehearsal tonight of this sandlot opera production tonight and was disappointed, having seen a half dozen earlier POP operas about the backstage travails of putting on an opera — the soprano throwing a snit, the financial backers flaking, the set collapsing in a heap, etc — that the cast and crew were already in fine fettle and no amusing catastrophes ensued.
$65 for an Everybody Goes to Rick’s-style table for 2 with a platter of salami, cheese, crackers, and fruit, $120 for a table for 4 with food. A bottle of Big Kahuna wine from Trader Joe’s is about $12. Just like Donizetti promised, cheap wine makes everything better.
Okay, so for $32.50 you don’t get Pavarotti, but you didn’t get to eat and drink while Pavarotti was singing, so I’d say it’s a wash. Luciano looked like a fellow who enjoyed eating and drinking, so he’d have wanted you to go.