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"The Elixir of Love" revolves around a potion purported to make the drinker irresistible to the object of his desire. It's a potent potion indeed: Not only the protagonist Nemorino, but Utah Opera's entire production of the Gaetano Donizetti opera, is virtually irresistible.

This production — conceived by James Robinson, with a Grandma Moses-inspired set design by Allen Moyer and smart-looking costumes by Alice Bristow — places the Donizetti opera in a small town in the American Midwest in the second decade of the 20th century. It was clear from the opening scene in Saturday's opening performance that everyone onstage was having fun. Stage director Crystal Manich made sure that each chorus member had a clear identity; their interactions established a strong sense of community and helped the audience warm to them right away.

The plot revolves around Nemorino, a naive but good-natured young man who is in love with the worldwise Adina. When Adina accepts a surprising marriage proposal from another man, Nemorino must act fast. Enter the traveling salesman Dulcamara.

Soprano Anya Matanovic made a most winsome Adina, with a glittering voice and abundant charm. Tenor Aaron Blake, as Nemorino, was occasionally underpowered but made up for it with his stylish, expressive delivery and immense likability. Together, they had some of the best romantic chemistry seen on the Capitol Theatre stage in recent memory.

But it wasn't just the romance that sparkled with great chemistry; there was engaging and believable rapport in all of the opera's numerous duets. Even the snake-oil salesman Dulcamara earned audience sympathy thanks to the powerful voice and excellent comic timing of bass Rod Nelman.

Rounding out the cast were soprano Jennie Litster, assertive and plucky as Adina's friend Giannetta, and baritone Andrew Wilkowske, who had a smaller voice but big stage presence as Adina's pompous suitor Belcore.

Susanne Sheston directed the Utah Symphony in a crisp and colorful performance of Donizetti's sparkling gem of a score. Considering "Elixir's" irresistible music, charming plot and popularity worldwide, it's surprising that Utah Opera has presented it only once before (in May 1986). Let's hope we don't have to wait another 26 years to see this delightful opera here. —

Drink up

Utah Opera presents Donizetti's "The Elixir of Love." The opera is sung in Italian, with Supertitles in English.

Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City

When • Reviewed Saturday, March 10; repeats Monday, Wednesday and Friday, March 12, 14 and 16, at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, March 18.

Running time • Just under 2½ hours, including intermission.

Tickets • $16 to $85 ($5 more on performance day) at http://www.utahopera.org, 801-355-ARTS or the box office.

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