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8.110125-26 - DONIZETTI: Elisir d'amore (L') (Metropolitan Opera) (1949)

Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) - L’elisir d’amore

A melodramma giocoso in two acts, to a libretto by Felice Romano, after Scribe’s text for Auberís opera Le philtre. From its very first performance L’elisir d’amore has been admired by opera lovers for its gaiety, lyricism and bitter-sweet humour. During those years when Donizetti was ‘out of fashion’ in most of the world’s opera houses, it remained one of the handful of his works that was occasionally produced - almost always to enthusiastic acclaim. After its immensely successful 1832 Milan première the opera was soon heard throughout Italy, and reached London’s Lyceum Theatre in 1836. New York saw L’elisir two years later when it was staged at the Park Theatre, but it first graced the boards of the Met only in January 1904, when the starry cast made the wait almost worthwhile; Enrico Caruso as Nemorino, Marcella Sembrich as Adina and Antonio Scotti as Belcore. Caruso’s celebrated successors at the Met included the golden Beniamino Gigli, the honeyed Tito Schipa and, as we know from this recording, the plangent-toned Ferruccio Tagliavini. Bidù Sayão inherited the role of Adina from, most famously, the brilliant Frieda Hempel, and added her own inimitable lively charm for the eighteen performances of it that she sang with the Met company; all in all a promising cast for this Christmas Eve performance of 1949.

Nemorino was one of Tagliavini’s great roles; not only had he the most exquisite lyric tenor voice of his day - a true tenore di grazia - but he relished opportunities to display the sense of fun that the role demands. At his first appearance, as Nemorino apostrophises on the beauty of the distant Adina, Tagliavini immediately demonstrates his celebrated sweetness of tone, and sweet it stays throughout almost the entire opera; at times he forces, to make a momentary effect and the voice hardens, but his remains one of the most elegant of all Nemorinos. His piéce de résistance, ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ in the final scene, is among the best examples of Donizetti singing on record - no wonder Tagliavini was so much admired during the 1940s and 50s when he was at his vocal peak. Listen, too, to the duet at the close of the first scene; how this lovelorn young peasant pleads in vain with Adina, and how she care-lessly rejects him! This shows them both at their characterful best.

Adina, of course, must also be sweet of voice - and hard of heart - until her final capitulation in the last scene; she flirts and rebuffs by turns. By the time she first sang the role at the Met in 1941, Sayão had already perfected the art of soubrettish charm; her portrayals of Mozart’s Susanna and Zerlina were good training grounds, and in L’elisir her teasing is at its most accomplished! Try the trio with Nemorino and Belcore in Scene 2 in which, to the peasant’s despair, she promises marriage to the soldier within six days. Each character has an ‘agenda’ - and Belcore doesnít see that he is the dupe, the victim of Adinaís wiles. In her conciliation with Nemorino she is truly penitent and Sayão conveys that contrition with warm tone and, finally, gentleness.

Valdengo’s Belcore adds further delight to the performance as the soldier’s gallantry is caught so well in his entrance aria. He himself proclaims ‘...No young woman can resist the sight of a military uniform...’; and listen to Baccaloni’s outrageously bombastic patter song in the second scene as he sells his magic potion. It’s no surprise that the chorus of villagers fall headlong for them both! These four principals make an ideal quartet to portray Donizetti’s colourful characters, and Maestro Antonicelli guides the whole piece along with verve and style, with discreetly appropriate harpsichord continuo (perhaps played by the conductor himself?).

Much affectionate seasonal merriment is served up to this appreciative Christmas Eve audience at the Met, and happily we too can enjoy a potent dose of Donizetti’s appetising elixir over fifty years later!

L’elisir d’amore was first performed on 12 May 1832 at the Teatro della Cannobiana, Milan.

L’elisir d’amore: SynopsisCD1 Act IThe scene is set in an Italian village in the eighteenth century. The first act opens at the entrance to a farm. In the background the open country can be seen, with a river, on the banks of which some women are washing clothes. In the centre is a large tree under which the peasant girl Giannetta and the men and women harvesters are resting. Adina, tenant of the farm, sits apart, reading. Nemorino, a simple young peasant, watches her from a distance.

1 Prelude

2 Giannetta and the other peasants sing of the pleasure of resting when the sun is hot (Bel conforto al mietitore) and of the difficulty of avoiding the heat of love (d'amor la vampa ardente).3 Nemorino is watching Adina reading and thinks how beautiful she is (Quanto è bella, quanto è cara!). He thinks that he has no hope, because Adina is so clever and he is always so foolish (io son sempre un idiota).4 Nemorino wonders how he can make Adina love him.

5 Adina laughs with delight at the story she is reading (Benedette queste carte!) and, when the others ask her to tell them what the book is about, she tells them that it is the story of Tristan, a love-story. Nemorino comes nearer, so that he may hear. Adina begins to read aloud the story of Yseult and Tristan (Della crudele Isotta) and how she was cruel and hard-hearted, until Tristan found a love philtre, an elixir of love. Adina turns to the peasants and tells them she wishes she could find such a perfect elixir. She continues to read of how Yseult then fell in love with Tristan, as soon as she had drunk the potion, and lived from then on faithful to him. All wish they could find such a potion.6 A march is heard and they all rise to their feet. Sergeant Belcore enters, with a band of soldiers. He approaches Adina and greets her, giving her a little bunch of flowers, with all the confidence of a soldier, comparing himself favourably to Paris, son of King Priam, who gave the apple to the goddess of his choice (Come Paride vezzoso). He is more glorious than Paris, because, giving these flowers, he knows he has Adina's heart. Adina comments ironically on Belcore's modesty, to the agreement of the others.

7 Nemorino is upset at Belcore's apparent success, but the latter continues, sure of his victory and his irresistible charms, nothing surprising since he is a gallant sergeant (son galante, e son sargente), and Mars, god of war, conquered Venus, Cupid's mother. Adina comments again on Belcore's modesty and Nemorino on what seems to be his success. Belcore goes on to demand that Adina name the day. She, however, is in no hurry, while Nemorino continues to despair. Belcore points out that in love and war there is no room for delay (in guerra ed in amore/è fallo d'indugiar), but she refuses to give in, remarking that these men sing of victory before they have started to fight. Nemorino, still talking to himself, wishes for the courage that Cupid might give him (Un po' del suo coraggio / Amor mi desse almeno!). Belcore demands surrender (Su, su, capitoliamo), but Adina insists she is no hurry (Signor, io no ho fretta). Giannetta thinks it would be funny if Adina fell for Belcore (Davver saria da ridere / se Adina ci cascasse), but she is an old fox, too clever for that. The peasants echo her opinion.

8 In a recitative Belcore asks Adina to allow his men to rest under cover for a while. Adina agrees and offers a bottle of wine, giving Belcore reason to suppose that he is already a member of the family. She tells the peasants to go back to work and they go, as Belcore and his men withdraw, leaving Nemorino alone with Adina.

Nemorino seeks a word with Adina (Una parola, o Adina), but she tells him to leave her alone, to go and see his uncle in the town, who is supposed to be seriously ill. Adina tells him that he may die and leave his money to someone else. She goes on to point out that he loves her in vain, since she is capricious. He asks her why.9 Adina goes on to tell him that he might as well ask the playful breeze why it blows now on the lily, now on the rose without settling (Chiedi all'aura lusinghiera / perchè vola senza posa): he should give up any thought of loving her. Nemorino explains that he cannot stop loving her: she might as well ask the river why it runs down to the sea (Chiedi al rio perchè gemente . . . corre al mar). He is insistent, but she recommends that he should follow her example and always change lovers, to cure his folly (Per guarir di tal pazzia). Nemorino, however, cannot drive her from his heart, seeing her image alone, day and night (Ah! te sola io vedo, io sento / giorno e notte). Her heart remains free, she claims, but he wants nothing but to die following her.

Act II

The scene is now the village square, with the Partridge Inn on one side. Peasants come and go, busy with various tasks. The sound of a trumpet is heard and women come out of the houses,curious to see what is happening. The men join them.10 The women asks what is happening (Che vuol dire codesta suonata?) and the men tell them that some important stranger has arrived, in his golden carriage (In carrozza dorata è arrivata / un signor forestiere). They think it must be some great nobleman and doff their caps and hats as the stranger appears. Doctor Dulcamara comes in, standing up on a gilded carriage, holding in his hand papers and bottles. Behind him a servant plays the trumpet. The peasants gather round him.11 Doctor Dulcamara calls for their attention (Udite, udite, o rustici) and tells them, as they must know, he is a great physician, an encyclopedic doctor, known throughout the world, and . . . in other places, benefactor of humanity: he has a cure for toothache, pesticide, and a remedy for senile impotence. The peasants are impressed. He goes on to list the wonders that his panacea can do: rejuvenating older women, banishing wrinkles, bringing young men girls, moving the paralytic and good for apoplectics, asthmatics, asphitics, hysterics, diabetics, ear-ache, scrofula, rickets and liver disease. He calls on them to buy the wonder medicine, brought from thousands of miles away, and costing not a hundred, not thirty, not twenty, but one scudo. Usually he sells it for nine liras, but he will let them have it for three, since he was born in their district.12 Nemorino thinks he may have found the answer to his problems, sent from Heaven (Ardir! Ha forse il cielo mandato . . . quest'uom miracoloso nel villaggio) He approaches the doctor and asks him if he has marvellous secrets. Dulcamara assures him that his bag is a Pandora's box (La mia saccocia è di Pandora il vaso). Nemorino asks if, by any chance, he might have the love potion of Queen Yseult. Nemorino explains that he means the elixir of love (Voglio dire, lo stupendo / elisir che desta amore). Dulcamara assures him that he himself is the distiller and that the elixir is much in demand. Nemorino tries to find out how much the elixir costs. Dulcamara hesitates, trying to find out how much Nemorino has, luckily a sum that exactly matches the price, one zecchino. Nemorino is grateful, while, in an aside, Dulcamara thinks he has not met such a simpleton as this anywhere. Nemorino asks for instructions on how to use it and is told to be careful, to shake the bottle, open it and take a sip. It will work quickly . . . in a day, which will give Dulcamara time to be away. The taste? Nemorino asks. Excellent, Dulcamara tells him, adding, under his breath, that it is Bordeaux wine, not an elixir. Dulcamara warns him not to tell anyone of the elixir (Sovra ciò, silenzio, sai? / Silenzio, silenzio). Nemorino promises, delighted with his purchase, as Dulcamara goes into the inn.13 Nemorino is overjoyed with the elixir (Caro elisir! sei mio!) and already, without even drinking any, feels its effect. He drinks, sips and drinks again, feeling the warmth run through his veins. Happy and now hungry, he sings (Lallarallara, la, la, la, la) as he sits on a bench outside the inn, taking bread and fruit from a bag and starting to eat. Adina sees him and cannot understand the reason for his elation.

14 Nemorino, when he sees her, is going to run to her, but decides to take things slowly and not look at her. He goes on singing, waiting for the elixir to have its promised effect, as it surely must, while she thinks he is simply showing indifference.

15 As he goes on singing, Adina thinks Nemorino has taken her advice and is trying to forget his love: she resolves to do her best to rekindle his affection and let him suffer the more.The voice of Belcore is heard from within, singing of love and war and the victory that follows a siege (Tran, tran, tran, tran . . . in guerra ed in amor).

16 Belcore comes out of the inn, his appearance welcomed by Adina, but not by Nemorino. She leads Belcore on, suggesting he will soon win, in fact in six days. Nemorino finds this funny, to the annoyance of Belcore (Che cosa trova a ridere / cotesto sciminuto?), who wonders what this idiot finds so amusing. Adina is surprised that Nemorino finds the whole thing amusing, but the latter is, of course, confident of success.17 There is a drum-roll and Giannetta and the peasants run in, followed by Belcore's men. Giannetta tells Belcore that his men are looking for him (Signor sargente, signor sargente, / di voi richiede la vostra gente): a message has come from the captain, telling him that they must leave the next morning. Belcore bids Adina remember his love (Almeno, almen ricordati / dell'amor mio) and she promises constancy. They might marry that very day, Belcore suggests, and Adina agrees, watching the reaction of Nemorino, who asks her to wait at least until the next day, still confident of the elixir.18 Nemorino begs Adina to wait until the next day, otherwise she may be sorry (Adina, credimi, te ne scongiuro). Belcore tells him he is lucky he is either mad or drunk, otherwise he would have throttled him or cut him in pieces. Adina excuses him, since he is only a boy, still planning to captivate him again. Belcore tells him to go (Va via, buffone), while Nemorino continues to warn her that she must wait. The peasants and soldiers think Nemorino is a fool to suppose that he can triumph over a sergeant.

19 Adina tells Belcore to go with her to find the notary, while Nemorino is now distraught, calling on the doctor for help.20 Adina, Belcore, Giannetta and the rest are happy in the prospect of a wedding celebration (Fra lieti concenti, gioconda brigata), while laughing at Nemorino, who is now seriously worried and needs the doctor's immediate help (Dottore! Dottore!Soccorso, pietà). Adina gives her hand to Belcore and they go off together.CD 2Act III (Act II)The scene is inside Adina's farm-house. There is a table at one side, laid for a wedding banquet. Sitting at the table are Adina, Belcore, Dulcamara and Giannetta. The villagers stand around, drinking and singing, while the regimental musicians opposite, on a kind of platform, are playing.1 The company sing and drink a toast to the couple (Cantiamo, cantiam, cantiam). Adina wishes that Nemorino were there to see what is happening.

2 In a recitative Dulcamara tells them that, since they like singing, he has a new little song, if Adina would sing it with him (Poichè cantar vi alletta, / uditemi, signori). He takes some books out of his bag and gives one to Adina. The title is The Lovely Gondolier Girl and Senator Three-Teeth, Dulcamara announces, a barcarolle for two.3 Dulcamara starts the song: I am rich and you are fair, I have money, you are pretty (Io son ricco e tu sei bella), and Adina sings the answering verse, that she is honoured, but wants to marry someone of her own class. In the song she continues to reject the old senator, to the approval of the audience. Dulcamara continues, suggesting money lasts longer than love, but Adina sings her reply, that she prefers her lover Zanetto. The villagers applaud the song, praising Dulcamara.

4 The notary comes in, welcomed by Dulcamara as the wedding recruiting-officer. Adina is disturbed that Nemorino is not there, since this is all designed to disturb him. They all go out, leaving only Dulcamara alone.5 Dulcamara sits down at the table, since weddings are agreeable enough, but the best part of a wedding is the food (Le feste nuziali son piacevoli assai). Nemorino comes in, having seen the notary and now fearing the worst. Dulcamara sings a snatch of the barcarolle, but Nemorino explains his predicament, telling Dulcamara that he absolutely must be loved before the next day. The latter proposes an easy remedy, a second dose of the elixir, knowing that he himself will be safely away in half an hour. Nemorino has no money left, and Dulcamara, as he goes out, tells him to come back when he has some. Nemorino throws himself down on a bench in despair.6 Belcore comes into the room, musing to himself about the strangeness of women, since Adina wants to postpone the wedding until the evening (La donna è un animale / stravagante). He sees Nemorino and asks him why he is so upset. Nemorino tells him he is in despair because he has no money.

7 Belcore proposes an easy remedy, enlisting as a soldier, which will bring him twenty scudi immediately: he promises honour and glory, and love. Nemorino worries about the dangers of war (Ah, non, Ah, no. Ah! / Ai perigli della guerra / io son ben che esposto sono). Belcore holds out the promise of twenty scudi, while Nemorino still hesitates, in spite of the advantages of army life that Belcore suggests. Nemorino eventually agrees to enlist and quickly signs the paper and takes the money.

8 Belcore congratulates him on his decision, remarking, in an aside, that he has recruited his rival, which is no bad thing. Both of them are pleased with themselves.The scene is now a village courtyard, open towards the rear.9 The village girls are gossiping with Giannetta, asking if the rumour can be true (Saria possibile?): is it true that Nemorino's uncle has died and left him a fortune. Giannetta

assures them that the story is true, but they must say nothing, now that Nemorino is a millionaire, a catch for any girl.10 Nemorino draws near, watched curiously by the village girls. He says that he has drunk a great deal of the elixir and is now expecting some result from it (Dell'elisir mirabile / bevuto ho in abbondanza). The girls guess that he does not yet know of his good fortune and, as he is about to go, Giannetta comes forward and curtseys to him, followed by all the other girls. Naturally Nemorino attributes their behaviour to the elixir. At this point Adina and Dulcamara enter from different directions and are astounded to see Nemorino the centre of such attention. Seeing Dulcamara, Nemorino tells him how effective his potion has been, and the doctor almost believes it, amazed that he may actually have a magic potion. The girls invite Nemorino to come and dance with them, and he chooses first Giannetta and then one after the other. Adina comes forward and tells him he is making a mistake to enlist. Nemorino thinks victory is his, and Adina is amazed at the sudden change, since she is now in love, imagining herself rejected. Dulcamara has visions of untold wealth from his elixir, Adina feels now the power of love and the girls go off with Nemorino.11 Left alone with Adina Dulcamara explains how the matter has come about: it is all his doing (La lode è mia). Adina tells him that this is nonsense (Pazzie!), but he insists that he has the magic potion of Queen Yseult and it was this that he gave to Nemorino and this was the reason for Nemorino enlisting as a soldier, to be able to buy the love philtre.12 Adina is impressed by such evidence of love (Quanto amore!), but Dulcamara realises that she is in love with Nemorino, while she regrets her stupidity in rejecting him. Dulcamara now offers her the elixir that will bring men to her, perhaps even a count or a marquis. Adina is cleverer than that, and Dulcamara realises that it is her charm and beauty that is the true physician that will bring love. They go out.13 Nemorino comes in musing about what he has seen: in Adina's eyes there was a furtive tear, when she saw the behaviour of the girls to him (Una furtiva lagrima): surely she loves him.14 Adina comes in, her beauty now increased by her love, Nemorino sees (Eccola. / Oh! qual le accresce belti / l'amor nascente!). She asks him why he is going for a soldier, and he tells her he wanted to improve his fortune. Adina, however, has bought him out of the army, an action that amazes him.15 Adina tries to encourage Nemorino , giving him now his freedom (Prendi, per me sei libero) and bidding him stay where everyone loves him. She hands him the discharge papers.

16 Adina bids Nemorino goodbye. Thinking that she will go, he hands her back the papers: without her, he would as soon die a soldier. Adina now admits her love for him and her desire to make him happy, swearing to love him for ever.17 Belcore and his soldiers come in, with Dulcamara, Giannetta and the villagers. He orders his men to halt and finds himself presenting arms to his rival (Alto! Fronte! / Che vedo?). Adina tells him that she has now chosen Nemorino. Belcore tells her that she is welcome, since there are plenty more women for him, the world is full of them (Pieno di donne è il mondo). Dulcamara suggests a useful remedy, his elixir, and goes on to explain the merits of his panacea, which corrects every defect (Ei corregge ogni difetto) andmakes the ugly beautiful. The villagers and soldiers clamour for a bottle or two, or three of the medicine. His carriage is drawn in and he mounts, promising everything the potion to the eager buyers. Adina, however, is grateful to him: without his magic potion she would never have fallen love with Nemorino, and he, in turn, still thinks he owes his good fortune to the elixir. Only Belcore is angry, cursing the damned charlatan (Ciarlatano maledetto), as the carriage pulls away.

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