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Elgin Opera launches biggest show in its history
By Scott C. Morgan | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 2/8/2008 12:16 AM

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Soprano and Elgin resident Solange Sior joked with a sigh, "I'm wearing too many hats."

Contacted by phone last Saturday a week before opening night, Sior was not only busy with her duties as artistic director and co-founder of Elgin Opera, but from co-starring in the company's biggest production to date.

With an eye to attract Valentine's Day-minded audiences this weekend, Elgin Opera presents Gaetano Donizetti's 1832 romantic comic opera "L'Elisir d'Amore" (translated as "The Love Potion" for advertising purposes, even though Elgin Opera performs it in its original Italian with projected English titles).

In "The Love Potion," Sior plays the wealthy landowner Adina who catches the eyes of two men: The braggart soldier Sgt. Belcore (baritone Teppei Kono) and the country bumpkin Nemorino (tenor John Zukerman). Desperate to win Adina's affection, Nemorino turns to the quack medicine man Dr. Dlucamara (bass-baritone Bill McMurray) and buys a "love potion" which is really just cheap wine.

"I get to act silly and play drunk," said Zuckerman about the lovable Nemorino, adding that he also gets to sing the opera's big hit tune "Una furtiva lagrima" (made famous by late tenors like Enrico Caruso and Luciano Pavarotti). "It's pretty much the most fun you can have as a tenor."

"The reason we selected it is because it's very accessible for audiences who have never seen an opera before," says Sior about "The Love Potion." She also adds that "it's a funny opera and nobody dies."

But aside from easy laughs, "The Love Potion" marks two important firsts for the 7-year-old company: It's Elgin Opera's Hemmens Cultural Center debut and it's also the first time the company performs a complete opera with a full orchestra.

New Millennium Orchestra music director Francesco Milioto previously conducted Elgin Opera's productions of "La Traviata" and "Madama Butterfly," but in drastically reduced orchestral arrangements he made for piano and string quartet. Elgin Opera's previous venues like Larkin High School and various churches also didn't have orchestra pits.

"This is definitely a step up for us all," said Milioto, proud about the New Millenium's 40 musicians that will accompany the Elgin performances. "The singers feel much more supported when you have more instruments … the colors in the orchestra bring it out so easily."

"It definitely helps, as you say, 'complete the opera,'" says Chicago-based singer McMurray about having the luxury of a full orchestra. McMurray previously sang Dr. Dulcamara in English for the Lyric Opera of Chicago's Opera in the Neighborhoods tour and he's grateful that Elgin Opera has provided him the chance to sing the role again.

"You're getting the opportunity to perform and hone your skills with a smaller company and getting more leading role experience," McMurray said. "So when you go to the bigger companies, you have more to offer."

Though Elgin Opera is still seen as an up-and-coming company, Zuckerman has been impressed by the level of local talent he has seen in the company.

"I haven't worked with a chorus this good that wasn't a well-paid union chorus," Zuckerman said. "They deserve as much congratulations as possible because they are really a big part of the show."

Along with Elgin Opera's long list of donors and volunteers helping with sets and costumes, Sior is also proud to acknowledge the added support from the city of Elgin, which helped the company make the move to the Hemmens.

"Elgin is definitely and fast becoming recognized as a cultural center in the Fox Valley and Elgin Opera helps us to achieve that recognition," said Elgin spokeswoman Sue Olafson. "Mayor Edward Schock himself is a huge fan of opera in general and the city saw this as an opportunity to expose its residents to the art form."

"We would like to do more but producing opera is so expensive," Sior said.

Which is why Sior pointed out that before each performance, there's a fundraising gala reception with champagne, hors d'oeuvres, a pre-opera lecture and more.

"Elgin is a very cultural town," Sior said. "And we wanted to give everyone a real occasion to dress up."

'Potion' Elgin Opera's biggest production ever

"The Love Potion" ("L'Elisir d'Amore")

Where: Elgin Opera at the Hemmens Cultural Center, 45 Symphony Way, Elgin.

When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9 and 3 p.m. Feb. 10

Tickets: $30-$40; $40 extra for pre-opera gala fundraiser with champagne, hors d'oeuvres and more at 6 p.m. Feb. 9 and 1:30 p.m. Feb. 10.

Phone: (847) 931-5900