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Unadilla Theatre Stages an Opera Favorite


Published August 3, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.

Mary Jane Austin and Erik Kroncke - COURTESY OF ERIK KRONCKE
  • Courtesy Of Erik Kroncke
  • Mary Jane Austin and Erik Kroncke

There really is an elixir that causes people to fall in love, and it's called... Bordeaux wine. That's what the quack doctor in Gaetano Donizetti's opera L'elisir d'amore (The Elixir of Love) sells to a lovesick and unsuspecting peasant, Nemorino. To the latter's surprise, it works!

The happily ending story of Elixir, which premiered in 1832, is actually a lot more complicated, nuanced and moving. Audiences can experience this opera's emotional ride in four performances starting on August 12 at Unadilla Theatre in Marshfield.

The production features a cast of five professional Vermont singers and a community chorus of eight. Stage-directed by Montpelier bass Erik Kroncke, who sings the doctor, Dulcamara, it casts Burlington tenor Adam Hall as Nemorino opposite Northfield soprano Lillian Broderick as his love interest, the wealthy farm owner Adina. Mason Jarboe, a Rutland baritone, portrays the boastful sergeant Belcore, and soprano Erin McIntyre, from Montpelier, sings the peasant girl Giannetta. Music director and vocal coach Mary Jane Austin provides piano accompaniment.

The opera will be sung in Italian. During a phone call, Kroncke said he is working on English supertitles but can't promise them, given the production's four-week preparation time.

Unadilla, a bucolic summer venue with two theaters and a picnicking lawn, often presents Gilbert and Sullivan operettas alongside its dramatic fare. Kroncke and Austin have been involved in seven such operettas since 2012, including this year's Iolanthe.

Opera is rarer for the venue. Unadilla founder Bill Blachly, now in his late nineties, requested one in 2013, and Kroncke and Austin obliged with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Abduction From the Seraglio, giving Kroncke his first directing gig. Blachly asked for another opera just before the pandemic struck in 2020, leaving Elixir hanging until now.

Austin and Kroncke both have long experience with Elixir. The opera was the first Austin accompanied, in the mid-1990s, at the Ezio Pinza Council for American Singers of Opera in Italy while she was a graduate student at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. In 2018, Austin toured Vermont with the Opera Company of Middlebury's production. Kroncke has sung in Elixir with the New Jersey Association of Verismo Opera and with EPCASO.

Austin said by phone that she, Kroncke and Blachly settled on Elixir "not just because it's one of my favorites but because of the spirit of this opera. It's a comedy, but it's also ... about the power of love — even as a placebo effect." That's "a wonderful thing [for audiences] after being emotionally worn down by the pandemic," she added.

The couple brought in a protégée and returned Vermonter to sing Adina. Broderick, who just sang the lead in Iolanthe, grew up in Plainfield and has studied voice with Kroncke and vocal coaching with Austin since age 16. She earned her master's in opera performance at the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, completing the last few months of the program back in Vermont after the pandemic arrived.

Broderick describes her role as Adina as "really different from other operatic heroines. Most of the roles in the lyric soprano repertoire are usually victims or mistreated, but Adina really runs the whole village."

The opera's most recognizable aria, Broderick added, is also "one of the most famous opera arias ever." That's Nemorino's "Una furtiva lagrima," or "A furtive tear," in which he expresses hope that Adina has finally fallen for him.

The Unadilla production comes just in time to fill an upcoming gap. Opera Company of Middlebury has given audiences 19 years of outstanding and often riotously entertaining productions. It recently announced that it has canceled its September opera, Orfeo ed Euridice by Christoph Willibald Gluck, because of financial difficulties.

The company's notice on its website reads: "We have poured our limited resources into dozens of productions over the last two decades, but over the last few months, our resources and staff have reached a breaking point." Artistic director Doug Anderson wrote in an email that a more definitive statement from the board is pending.

Costs are a pressing issue for most local performing arts organizations. Kroncke is keeping them down through basic, traditional staging and a small cast that will provide some of its own costumes.

"I don't have any big gimmick — apart from [the fact that] it's an opera happening out in a cow field. We're going to make it about great music," he said.

L'elisir d'amore (The Elixir of Love) by Gaetano Donizetti, Fridays and Saturdays, August 12 and 13 and 19 and 20, 7:30 p.m., at Unadilla Theatre, Marshfield. $15-25. unadilla.org

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