L’Elisir D’Amore

(The love potion) Donizetti

Rustic Comedy

The one where our simple hero is about to lose his loved one when a quack doctor, a love potion and a furtive tear save the day. CAST

Adina, a rich young woman: owns a farm Nemorino, a farm labourer Belcore, an army sergeant Dulcamara, a quack doctor Giannetta, a peasant girl
2 acts: running time 2 hrs 10 mins

Soprano Tenor Baritone Bass Soprano

STORY Act I Sc 1 Adina’s farm
The opera recounts the events in an interesting day in the life of a small Basque village perhaps 150 years ago. It is dinner break on Adina’s farm and the workforce (surely so large as to be uneconomic) loll around being happy and singing the usual opening chorus rubbish. Nemorino, handsome but poor, tells us he is deeply in love with Adina. She in a democratic way is sitting reading amidst the swirling workforce and now she edifies all present by reading aloud (singing) the story of Tristan and Isolde and the love potion or elixir. Indeed a very handy thing to have about the place say the chorus. But is that a military band we hear approaching? It is indeed, and a small detachment (as large as can be spared taking into account the male members of the chorus acting as farm workers already on stage) of soldiers led by macho man Sergeant Belcore march into the farmyard. The preposterous Belcore instantly makes a pass at Adina, offers a bouquet and within 90 seconds a proposal of marriage. Adina, failing to recognize him for the bounder that he is and impressed by his virility, asks for time to consider. Nemorino panics – thinks what chance has a wimp like me in the face of this mighty military man? Nemorino, alone with Adina, tells her – evidently for about the hundredth time – that he loves her. Push off she says you just don’t turn me on and anyway you’d be better employed sucking up to your rich uncle who is ill and might leave you some money. And by the way, I believe in taking a number of lovers, not just one. (Pretty progressive stuff.)

Act I Sc 2 The village market place
Offstage trumpet again – but this time clearly a call to comedy – enter ‘Doctor’ Dulcamara complete with coach, assistant and stock in trade. He addresses the natives in a fairground spiel

L’Elisir D’Amore

of overwhelming mendacity concerning his status in the medical profession and the qualities of his elixir which will cure toothache, asthma, dropsy, diuretic complaints, TB, rickets, scrofula, restore virility to the aged, ameliorate grief, etc. The peasants buy in quantity and are then seized by a desire to leave the stage all at the same time (a common phenomenon in opera) leaving Nemorino and Dulcamara alone together. Do you have any good quality love potions in stock? asks Nemorino. Yes indeed says Dulcamara, slipping him a bottle of plonk, one that will cause hot pants all round, only one ducat, shake the bottle before use, drink at once and wait for 24 hours for the potion to take effect. But it is so strong as to be illegal [anabolic steroids? Ed.] so don’t say a word for 24 hours by which time I’ll be gone. OK and thanks a million says Nemorino (Dulcamara exits), sits down, drinks, gets drunk, starts bawling out inebriated snatches of song. Adina enters: is surprised. Nemorino, well gone, knowing she will fall for him next day, says forget all my loverly talk to hell with sighing and pining. Adina thoroughly perplexed. It’s the soldiers again. Adina, nettled by Nemorino’s quaint behaviour, agrees to marry the outrageous Belcore on the next day: is infuriated to find Nemorino does not give a damn. A message comes: the troops must move to new quarters at ten o’clock next morning. So why not get married today? Yes? Yes. Now Nemorino thoroughly alarmed: marriage will take place before elixir has a chance to act. He pleads for delay. No good. So into the Act I finale – Nemorino forlorn, Belcore bombastic, Adina beginning to show that she is by no means indifferent to the rejected Nemorino.

Act II Sc 1 A room in Adina’s house
The wedding feast. Dulcamara [why on earth is he there? Ed.] does a party act with Adina which deservedly brings the house down. The Notary arrives (Adina wishes to wait until Nemorino is present, ostensibly so that she can parade her triumph – but perhaps there is another reason…). Again there is a lemming-like exodus leaving Dulcamara eating. Nemorino drops in. He wants instant results from the elixir – tomorrow will be too late. Easy, says Dulcamara, buy another bottle and it will all happen. But I have no money says Nemorino. Sorry! says Dulcamara. Cheerio. I’ll be at the inn for half an hour if you get the money. Enter Belcore. Nemorino says he’s broke. Why not enlist? says Belcore, twenty scudi on the nail. Nemorino enlists.

Act II Sc 2 The market place
Giannetta has heard a secret: Nemorino’s uncle has died and left his millions to his nephew. She makes a meal of telling this secret to all the girls in the village who start to express a new interest in Nemorino. Nemorino staggers on having dealt with the second bottle and expecting amorous attention. Sure enough he is mobbed. This is witnessed by Dulcamara (amazed at what two bottles of vino can do – has he strange powers unknown even to himself?) and Adina who now feels pangs of jealousy turning to bitter regret that she has lost a good man. Dulcamara asks Adina would she like some elixir too? Not necessary, she says, I’m sexy enough to get any man I want without it (but not Nemorino). Nemorino has spotted a furtive tear on Adina’s cheek: he believes she loves him but he will continue to ignore her : it seems to work. Adina enters. She has bought him out of the army but evidently he has gone off her so she plans to go away. Nemorino is disillusioned: so the doctor’s

The Good Opera Guide

elixir does not work after all. But suddenly Adina caves in: she does love him, truly she does. She sustains the fiction that the elixir did work. Belcore is told the bad news and grumbles: Dulcamara sings the praises of his elixir to the tune of his party song: everyone rejoices, and Nemorino is told he is a millionaire to boot.


5: 9: 19: 24:

Quanto e bella** Della Crudele Isotta** Un po del suo coraggio*** Chiedi all’aura*

Not the full-scale overture – a short prelude made up of some vigorous show-biz bombast (Belcore and Dulcamara?) and in contrast a haunting slow melody, yearning for something (Nemorino?). The rustic opening chorus is given a touch of class by Giannetta’s high descant above it – then straight into love-sick Nemorino’s first cavatina5 – which sets the tone for more to come. Adina charmingly tells the tale of Isolde in ballad form,9 with a catchy cabaletta, seized on by the chorus. Belcore and his stage army arrive: he makes a vocal assault on Adina with blustering proposals of intimacy: she replies coolly and as the ensuing duet warms up and speeds up, Nemorino joins in to make it a trio19 which races away into double time, cres-cendos, and a noisy climax. The first big ensemble piece. Brilliant! After a carefully composed and rather touching stretch of accompagnata in which Adina gently tells Nemorino she can’t love him,24 she tells him why (she is a free spirit). This forms the first verse (limpid and lovely) of a duet which develops into a more passionate exchange (catchy tune with racy cabaletta and force 8 climax).**

Act I Sc 2

32: 41: 46: 54: 64: 66:

Udite, udite, o rustici** Voglio dire … Io stupendo Elisir*** Silenzio!* Esulti pur la barbara** Che cosa trova a ridere** Adina credimi, te ne scongiuro***

The great Dr Dulcamara approaches to the sound of a distant trumpet and an expectant chorus: he arrives, and embarks on his first mighty patter song32 introduced by some declamatory stuff but soon rolling in an easy canter to his emphatic sales pitch and ending with a bout of persuasion (much more tuneful). He is well received by a cheery chorus. And now we have a marvel of sustained comic invention in the duet between Nemorino and Dulcamara41 in which the properties of the elixir are fully explored. The first exchanges are short and brisk until we reach a catchy refrain (’Obbligato, ah si, obbligato!’) and from then on the debate swings about freely to the final burst of patter from Dulcamara46 delivered under a lyrical

L’Elisir D’Amore

paean of joy and gratitude from Nemorino (‘Ah! Dottor, vi do parola’). The agreeable spectacle of Nemorino getting drunk is interrupted by the arrival of Adina and then a duet,54 with her very perplexed. During this he sobers up rapidly, moving away from his bibulous shouts of ‘Trallaralala’ to quite composed exchanges about what will happen tomorrow and reaching a melodious, if mutually frustrating, climax and full close. (Look out especially for the lingering phrase on the word ‘Domani’, at the end of the first section.) The confrontation between Adina, Belcore and Nemorino leads to a most enjoyable ‘thinks’ patter trio,64 all sotto voce: Belcore (I’ll hit this clown soon), Nemorino (Wait for tomorrow), Adina (The cheeky pig, why’s he glad I’m to marry?). The finale has action (the regiment to move at once), drama (the wedding to be today) and in the midst of flurry and confusion a streak of pure gold in Nemorino’s touching plea for a postponement66 which develops into a trio with Adina taking the melodic line, Belcore barking and shouting below and finally broadening out into a full ensemble including Giannetta and the chorus, and despite some internal patter, sustains its dreamy quality to the end. Top that? Impossible, but the cheerful finale keeps things going well enough to the first act curtain. Again, look out especially for a phrase in the orchestral accompaniment (which recurs in the final four bars of symphony). Once heard, never forgotten.

Act II Sc 1

3: 10: 21: 26: 29: 36: 42: 51:

Io son ricco, e tu sei bella*** At perigli della guerra** Dell ’elisir mirabile** Si, tutte l’amano*** Quanto amore!*** Una furtiva lagrima*** Prendi, prendi: per me sei libero** Ei corregge ogni difetto***

Pretty standard choral rejoicing at the wedding feast leads to Dulcamara’s party act – the duet3 (barcarolle) with Adina about the rich old man and the smart young girl. You will find that this pernicketty little tune outlives all others in the memory. There is another outburst of the wedding chorus and all exit save Dulcamara. When Nemorino arrives looking for a second bottle he deplores his bad luck with plaintive strains, but Belcore is at hand and the two of them embark on the interesting and varied enlistment duet10 with Nemorino inclined to soar aloft in a high tenor line whilst Belcore pumps out his patter below like a vocalized bassoon. Giannetta imparts the ‘secret’ that Nemorino is now a millionaire in an agreeable sotto voce scene which is perhaps a shade longer than it might be for closet listeners deprived of a sight of the stage pantomime. Nemorino drops by singing a cheerful cavatina21 and there are some nice chattering exchanges as the girls make up to the rich man and he congratulates himself on the good work done by the elixir. This develops into a running ensemble with Dulcamara (amazed at his own success) and Adina (perplexed) in which things happen very fast both as to plot and in the score and ending in a sequence in which everyone asserts their own thing:21 Adina (I begin to feel jealous), Nemorino (So now she’s longing for me), Dulcamara (Didn’t know my own powers), Giannetta and chorus (He’s going to be hard to get, but let’s try), but all come together in

The Good Opera Guide

one of Donizetti’s most sparkling and bubbly ensembles with two quite unexpected changes of key – each one giving an agreeable sensation in the lower stomach. Dulcamara tells Adina that no female can resist Nemorino (bad news for her) and presses the virtues of his elixir in a fizzing duet,29 Adina singing a sub- lime melody high above Dulcamara’s patter, also bas-soon-like but highly individual. The pace quickens: Dulcamara very pressing: Adina tells him she can get any man she wants without his ridiculous elixir. Full speed finish. Next the Furtive Tear36 (aptly called a Romanza), with its dolorous real bassoon introduction: one of the most sung tenor cavatinas in the whole of the Italian repertory, and rightly so. Its tenderness and innocence speak directly to any opera-loving heart. Nemorino and Adina meet in a musical mood of puzzled mystery: Adina tells him she has bought him out of the army. She has decided to go away and bids him farewell in a sad little ditty.42 Nemorino protests (if the elixir is not working he will die a soldier): Adina suddenly admits she does love him and so the duet takes a distinctly joyful turn and ends with a burst of lover’s vows from Adina. A roll of drums. The soldiers are back including the preposterous Belcore. After some plotclearance in recitatif Dulcamara launches into a paean of praise for his elixir to the tune of his party song51 (a welcome return). All hail Dulcamara in a chorus which, quite frankly, is a bit of mashed potatoes. Dulcamara’s coach moves off and as the great doctor departs the stage, the curtain falls.

NOTES L’Elisir d’ Amore
First night Reception Libretto Source Donizetti’s thirty-seventh opera Canobbiana Theatre, Milan, 12 May 1832 A hit The reliable Romani See below

Two months before the first night of Elisir, Donizetti and Romani had had a flop in that same city of Milan at La Scala with Ugo, Conti di Parigi. They accepted a quick commission for a comic opera no doubt to restore their reputations. It was alleged (as usual) that Donizetti wrote the score in two weeks. This for once can be proved to be almost certainly a lie since there is a letter to his father extant dated 24 April, a week before rehearsals started, saying the opera was almost complete. The libretto is based (pretty closely it would seem) on an opera of Scribe called Le Philtre and set to music by Auber about a year before, and this in turn was part of that interminable chain of borrowing, adapting, imitating, recycling plots that went on in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. An opera with an original plot was pretty well unknown. Donizetti did not think highly of the cast for the first night. He wrote: ‘We have a German prima donna, a tenor who stammers, a buffo with the voice of a goat and a French basso who is not very much … Courage my dear Romani.…’ And yet the first night was a wild success and ever since then Elisir has probably remained equal second in number of performances with Don Pasquale in the top ten comic operas. The Barber, of course, being first.


L’Elisir D’Amore

Elisir is the most lovable of Italian comic operas. It is truly ‘comica’ and not ‘buffa’, i.e. in the hands of Romani and Donizetti the characters are not cardboard cut-outs (as, for instance, in Rossini’s Barber), but almost real people. We feel for Nemorino in his unswerving devotion (a sort of Candide of love), we come to love the brassy Adina as she gets her come-uppance and turns into a sentient, sensible woman. If the word had not fallen upon evil days, one would call Ehsir a sentimental comedy but one which is tempered by irony (the elixir itself, the force enlistment, Nemorino’s inheritance) and greatly enhanced by the huge Dickensian character of Dr Dulcamara and the stereotype of all amorous noncommissioned officers, Sergeant Belcore. Musically Elisir is made up of several different strands – the yearning appeal of the tenor solos, climaxing in the Furtive Tear, Donizetti in his pathetic mood, which contrasts with everything else in the score; the patter songs which have such persuasiveness as almost to make us believe that Dulcamara is a pretty decent chap after all; the Adina line, seldom solo but always clear as crystal in duets and ensembles; the military band input and the rough, tough Belcore music; and finally the many concerted pieces in which Donizetti works his customary magic. But perhaps even more magic than usual, viz the Adina/Belcore/Nemorino trio which breaks into double time on Nemorino’s entry, ‘Un po’ del suo coraggio’, and the great ensemble in the finale of Act I in which Nemorino’s plea for delay is rejected, an astonishing piece which seems musically to soar above the humdrum sentiments of the text. Tommy Beecham used to define a good tune as one which ‘enters the ear with facility and quits the memory with difficulty’. If this definition were applied to all Donizetti’s operas, Elisir would come out a clear winner. It is a little miracle, pure enjoyment from first to last and a sure alpha-plus.

Entführung aus dem Serail, Die see Seraglio, Il