If you’re going to put on a classic opera about young love, who better to cast than the young?
On April 2 and 4, students from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music present a full-stage production of Donizetti's L’elisir d’amore -- a performance marking the SFCM directorial debut of Jose Maria Condemi, who has been named the new Director of Opera for SFCM.
Written in 1832, L’elisir d’amore is an opera staple about a country boy who falls in love with a well-read girl and tries to woo her by swigging “love potions” provided by a charlatan doctor. “It’s a very simple love story between two people who were destined to be together, but took a while to get there,” Condemi says.
Condemi, a veteran opera director who's worked with companies from San Francisco to Buenos Aires, considers L’elisir d’amore an excellent way to familiarize young singers with the simple, charming operas born out of the commedia dell'arte tradition. But he’s also interested in preparing his students for the life of a working opera performer.
“I’d like to give them a sense of what the professional expectations of an opera singer are,” Condemi says. “They are students, but I treat them like professionals.”
Condemi goes to great lengths to give his students a professional experience. He's opted to stage this production in the original Italian, so his singers can practice arias in a foreign language. He also helped transform the concert hall into an opera house by expanding the orchestra pit and building a second smaller stage in front of the pit. To give the production a twist, he's staging it circa 1950, so that Dr. Dulcamara can make his flashy arrival on a plane.
Adapting the Conservatory into an opera house has been quite fun, Condemi admits, as has working with the SFCM singers.
“It’s always so exciting for me to be working with young singers,” Condemi said. “They have this amazing talent and they just need to be trained -- and that’s what I’m here for.”