Robert J Farr
, July 2011
The story of L’Elisir d’Amore concerns the illiterate, rather gauche, country boy Nemorino (tenor) who loves Adina (soprano), a wealthy neighbour, who spurns his offers of love. She, meanwhile, has her dreams and later sets eyes and heart on Sergeant Belcore (baritone) who passes by with his platoon of soldiers. Nemorino hearing Adina sing of the legend of Tristan and Isolde (CH.5) and the love potion, yearns for such an elixir. Dulcamara, quack doctor (buffa bass) arrives, selling a cure-all potion. In the cavatina Udite, udite, o rustici he extols the virtues of his elixir (CH.12) and convinces Nemorino that his potion will bring Adina to love him. The naïve boy buys a bottle with what money he has whilst Belcore quickly impresses Adina and proposes marriage whilst Nemorino tries to convince her of the sincerity of his love. Nemorino keeps sipping it and soon becomes more confident, albeit slightly tipsy. He feigns indifference to Adina, which nettles her, and she promises to marry Belcore in six days time (CH.17). Meanwhile, Belcore learns that he and his troop have to leave that day and that he and Adina must marry that very evening (CHs.18-20).
Having no further money to purchase more of Dulcamara’s elixir, in desperation Nemorino signs to join Belcore’s troop and, convinced of its effects, spends his bounty in the hope of a miracle. The local girls learn that Nemorino has come into an inheritance and fawn over him (CH.29). He is even more convinced it is the effect of Dulcamara’s potion. Meanwhile, Adina discovers from Dulcamara what Nemorino has done to buy the potion, and, realising why, she relents, buys out his contract and decides to win him by her eyes and smile. Nemorino notices a tear in her eye and sings the famous romanza Una furtive lagrima (CH.35). Adina tells him of her love and all ends well with Belcore reflecting that there will always be girls in the next village (CH.40). Meanwhile Dulcamara ascribes all the happenings to his elixir in the patter aria Ei correge ogni difetto—it corrects every defect—(CH.41).
Whilst Niels Muus paces the music with delicacy, allowing his singers to phrase the music with character, their ability to do so is varied. Aquiles Machado as the love-sick Nemorino has two of the best tunes, starting in act one with Quanto e bella (CH.4) as heextols Adina’s beauty and then in act two as he notices a tear in her eye and sings the famous romanza Una furtive lagrima (CH.35). Machado over-sings both arias failing to invoke any of the magic to be found, particularly in the romanza, using an edge to his voice when more honeyed head tone and phrasing are required. His acting of the part is not helped by a less than appropriate figure du part to the extent that when he falls over tipsy, one fears he will roll (CH.16). Valeria Esposito as Adina is gentler in her phrasing and more varied in tone. She looks older than her would-be lovers, and although she characterises the role and acts with conviction, flashing eyes and smile, the legato line that marked her win in Cardiff in 1987 seems a thing of the past. Her coloratura is better when being chatted up by the none too vocally elegant Enrico Marrucci as Belcore, who at least plays the part of the upright macho womanising soldier well. The surprise of the casting is Erwin Schrott as Dulcamara. He is as far from the usual old buffer buffa as one can get, vocally as well as in appearance. With thigh high boots, a wisp of chest hair on view and firm abdominals, one can see that this Dulcamara fancies his chance with Adina who looks as though she might be tempted as he all but pinches her bottom (CH.31). Vocally, his bass baritone is as solid as his abs, rich, fluent and full of tease and fun. There is none of the vocal unsteadiness or spread of tone so often evident in the more geriatric singers cast in this key role. His portrayal puts a whole new perspective to the unfolding story and Dulcamara’s pre-departure sales pitch in the conclusion (CHs.40-41); with him around even the widows can dream dreams!