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8.554704 - DONIZETTI: Elisir d'amore (L') (Highlights)

Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848): L'elisir d'amore (Highlights)

Gaetano Donizetti was the leading composer of Italian opera in the short period between the early retirement of Rossini and death of Bellini and Verdi's first success with Nabucco in 1842. He was born in Bergamo in 1797 and had his early musical training there as a chorister under Simon Mayr at S Maria Maggiore. Through Mayr he received a very thorough musical training and was able to have his first opera, Zoraida di Granata, mounted in Rome in 1822. There followed a period in Naples, with operas for the Teatro Nuovo there and for the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. It was at the latter opera house that he established his international reputation in 1830 with the opera Anna Bolena. He confirmed this success in Milan two years later with the comedy L'elisir d'amore. In his later career he wrote again for Naples and, accepting an invitation from Rossini, visited Paris, where French grand opera had an influence on his style. Subsequent operas included a version of one of Sir Walter Scott's Waverley novels, which became Lucia di Lammermoor. Pressure of work, as he set out to follow the example of Rossini, who had been able to retire by the age of 38, brought a break-down in health, accentuated by an earlier syphilitic infection. He spent a period in an asylum near Paris, eventually returning home to Bergamo, where he died in 1848.

L'elisir d'amore was written in a remarkably short time, at the request of the impresario of the Teatro della Canobbiana in Milan, who had been let down by another composer and now needed a new opera to open his spring season, according to the later account of the librettist's wife only two weeks away. With the collaboration of the librettist Felice Romani, the work was completed, its text based in general on an existing French libretto by Eugène Scribe that had been set by Auber and staged in Paris a year earlier. Romani's wife claimed that the whole work was written within a fortnight, an obvious exaggeration, since it seems that Donizetti had already completed much of the opera some three weeks before it was to be staged, not to open the season, but to be staged as a later part of it. The opera was an immediate success, its continuing place in international repertoire comparable to that of Donizetti's other comic opera, Don Pasquale.


The first act of L'elisir d'amore opens in an Italian village in the eighteenth century. Villagers are resting from their work. Adina, who has the farm, sits reading, apart from the others, watched by the simple young peasant Nemorino. [1] In Quanto è bella, quanta è cara (How fair she is, how dear she is) he thinks of his love for her, realising he has no hope, since she is so clever and he is so foolish (Io son sempre un idiota). [2] Adina laughs with delight at the story she is reading, Benedette queste carte! (Delightful pages!), the tale of Tristan and Yseult and the love-potion that she would like to find for herself.

A march is heard and Sergeant Belcore enters, with a troop of soldiers, at once, to Nemorino's despair, showing gallantry towards Adina, who responds to his advances and offers entertainment to the sergeant and his men. Nemorino seeks an opportunity to talk to her, but she tells him to leave her alone. [3] In Chiedi all'aura lusinghiera (Ask the playful breeze why it blows) she tells him that she is capricious, while he explains that he cannot help loving her.


The scene is now the village square. The sound of a trumpet is heard, announcing the approach of Doctor Dulcamara on his gilded carriage, holding papers and bottles. [4] He calls for their attention, Udite, udite, o rustici (Hear, hear, you villagers) and starts to list the possible effects of the miracle potion he has to offer, a wonderful medicine to cure all evils. It seems that Nemorino may have found the answer to his problems, sent from heaven, and he approaches Dulcamara, asking if, by chance, he may have the love-potion of Queen Yseult, the elixir of love. Dulcamara is delighted to be of service and offers him a distillation, in fact simply red wine, that happily matches in price the single zecchino that Nemorino has. [5] Nemorino is delighted with his purchase, singing its praises in Caro elisir! Sei mio! (Dear elixir! You are mine!). He drinks, sips and drinks again. [6] Now happy and hungry, he sings Lallarallara la la la la, as he sits outside the inn. Adina sees him, but cannot understand his sudden elation. He thinks of approaching her, but then decides to give the elixir time to work, and munches his bread, while ignoring her. She resolves to rekindle his affections and let him suffer more. [7] The voice of Belcore is heard, singing of love and war, Tran tran tran… In guerra ed in amor (Tran tran tran… In war and in love), as he emerges from the inn, to be welcomed by Adina, who teases him about his earlier boast that he can win her heart in six days. Nemorino, unaccountably, finds the suggestion risible. [8] There is a drum-roll and the peasant girl Giannetta runs in, with fellow villagers and men of Belcore's troop, crying out Signor sargente, signor sargente (Mister Sergeant, Mister Sergeant). It seems that orders have come for Belcore and his men to leave the next morning. Now Adina and Belcore must marry at once. [9] Nemorino, however, begs her to wait for a day, Adina, credimi (Adina, believe me). The villagers think Nemorino is foolish to think he can do better than the sergeant, while he resolves to seek out Dulcamara for further help, as Adina's wedding seems now about to take place.

The second act is set inside Adina's farm-house, where villagers sing to the health of Adinil and Belcore. [10] Dulcamara entertains the company with a song, Io son ricco e tu sei bella (I am rich and you are fair), joined by Adina, who sings the answering verses, rejecting the old suitor of the song for her own young lover. The others go out and Dulcamara is left alone, to be joined by Nemorino, seeking a further potion to accelerate the philtre's action. Dulcamara, as he goes out, tells him that he must first raise the money, at which the young man throws himself down on a bench in despair. [11] Belcore enters the room, musing to himself about women: La donna è un animale stravagante (Woman is a strange creature). He sees Nemorino, asks him what the trouble is and proposes an easy way of raising money by enlisting as a soldier. [12] Nemorino fears the dangers of war, hesitating in Ai perigli della guerra (I know I shall be open to the dangers of war), but Belcore offers Venti scudi (Twenty scudi), which Nemorino accepts, while Belcore congratulates himself on the removal of a rival.

In the village the girls gossip about the death of Nemorino's uncle and his sudden inheritance. [13] Nemorino comes in, expecting results from the quantity of the elixir he has drunk: Dell'elisir mirabile bevuto ho in abbondanza (I have drunk in abundance of the wonderful elixir). He is met by the girls, who now make much of him. Adina and Dulcamara join them, equally amazed to find Nemorino the centre of attention, she now feeling love for the young man and Dulcamara imagining a fortune from an elixir that actually works.

Left alone with Adina, Dulcamara explains his part in the affair and how Nemorino has enlisted to find money for the magic philtre. Adina now realises the extent of her love for Nemotino, and Dulcamara something of the true state of affairs. They go out. [14] Nemorino, in the most famous aria of the opera, Una furtiva lagrima (A furtive tear), has seen in Adina's eyes a tear that surely shows her feeling for him. She now joins him, her beauty enhanced by love, and to his surprise tells him how she has bought him out of the army. As he demurs, she admits her love for him.

[5] Belcore and his men march in. With Alto! Fronte! Che vedo? (Halt! Present arms! What do I see?) he finds himself saluting his now successful rival. Adina tells him that she has chosen Nemorino and he consoles himself by declaring that there are plenty more women in the world, while Dulcamara suggests the usefulness of his elixir. [16] Ei correge ogni difetto (It cures every ill), it is a real panacea, he declares, and makes the ugly beautiful. The soldiers and villagers cluster round him, as he mounts his carriage. Adina is grateful to him for the effect his potion has had, while Nemorino still actually believes in it. Belcore is left to curse at the damned charlatan, as the carriage pulls away.

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