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Music with Ease > 19th Century Italian Opera > L'Elisir d'amore (Donizetti)

L'Elisir d'amore
(English title: The Elixir of Love)
An Opera by Gaetano Donizetti

Opera, in two acts. Music by Donizetti; words by Felice Romani. Produced, Milan, May 12, 1832; London, December 10, 1836; New Orleans, March 30, 1842; New York, Academy of Music, 1883-84, with Gerster; Metropolitan Opera House, 1904, with Sembrich, Caruso, Scotti, and Rossi.


NEMORINO, a young peasant…………………………… Tenor
ADINA, wealthy, and owner of a farm…………………… Soprano
BELCORE, a sergeant……………………………………. Baritone
DULCAMARA, a quack doctor………………………… Bass
GIANETTA, a peasant girl……………………………… Soprano

Time: Nineteenth Century.
Place: A small Italian village.

Act I. Beauty and riches have made the young peasant woman, Adina, exacting. She laughs at the embarrassed courting of the true-hearted peasant lad, Nemorino; she laughs at the story of "Tristan and Isolde," and rejoices that there are now no more elixirs to bring the merry heart of woman into slavish dependence on love. Yet she does not seem so much indifferent to Nemorino as piqued over his lack of courage to come to the point.

Sergeant Belcore arrives in the village at the head of a troop of soliders. He seeks to win Adina’s heart by storm. The villagers tease Nemorino about his soldier rival. The young peasant is almost driven to despair by their raillery. Enter the peripatetic quack, Dr. Dulcamara. For a ducat Nemorino eagerly buys of him a flask of cheap Bordeaux, which the quack assures him is an elixir of love, and that, within twenty-four hours, it will enable him to win Adina. Nemorino empties the flask at a draught. A certain effect shows itself at once. Under the influence of the Bordeaux he falls into extravagant mirth, sings, dances -- and grieves no more about Adina, who becomes piqued and, to vex Nemorino, engages herself to marry Sergeant Belcore. An order comes to the troops to move. The Sergeant presses for an immediate marriage. To this Adina, still under the influence of pique, consents. Nemorino seeks to console himself by louder singing and livelier dancing.

Act II. The village is assembled on Adina’s farm to celebrate her marriage with the Sergeant. But it is noticeable that she keeps putting off signing the marriage contract. Nemorino awaits the effect of the elixir. To make sure of it, he buys from Dulcamara a second bottle. Not having the money to pay for it, and Belcore being on the lookout for recuits, Nemorino enlists and, with the money he receives, pays Dulcamara. The fresh dose of the supposed elixir makes Nemorino livelier than ever. He pictures to himself the glory of a soldier’s career. He also finds himself greatly admired by the village girls, for enlisting. Adina also realizes that he has joined the army out of devotion to her, and indicates that she favours him rather than Belcore But he now has the exalted pleasure of treating her with indifference, so that she goes away very sad. He attributes his luck to the elixir.

The villagers have learned that his rich uncle is dead and has left a will making him his heir. But because this news has not yet been communicated to him, he thinks their attentions due to the love philtre, and believes the more firmly in its efficacy. In any event, Adina has perceived, upon the Sergeant’s pressing her to sign the marriage contract, that she really prefers Nemorino. Like a shrewd little woman, she takes matters into her own hands, and buys back from Sergeant Belcore her lover’s enlistment paper. Having thus set him free, she behaves so coyly that Nemorino threatens to seek death in battle, whereupon she faints right into his arms. The Sergeant bears this unlucky turn of affairs with the bravery of a soldier, while Dulcamara’s fame becomes such that he can sell to the villagers his entire stock of Bordeaux for love elixir at a price that makes him rich.

The elixir of life of this "Elixir of Love" is the romance for tenor in the second act, "Una furtiva lagrima" (A furtive tear), which Nemorino sings as Adina sadly leaves him, when she thinks that he has become indifferent to her. It was because of Caruso’s admirable rendition of this beautiful romance that the opera was revived at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, in 1904. Even the instrumental introduction to it, in which the bassoons carry the air, is captivating.

Act I is laid on Adina’s farm. Adina has a florid air, "Chiedi all’ aura lusinghiera" (Go, demand of you light zephyr), with which she turns aside from Nemorino’s attentions.

The scene then changes to a square in the village. Here Dr. Dulcamara makes his entry, singing his buffo air, "Unite, udite, o rustici (Give ear, now, ye rustic ones). There are two attractive duets in this scne. One is for Nemorino and Dr. Dulcamara, "Obligato! obligato!" (Thank you kindly! thank you kindly!).

The other, for Adina and Nemorino, is "Esalti pur al barbara per poco alle mie pene" (Tho’ now th’ exalting cruel one can thus deride my bitter pain).

Act II, which shows a room in Adina’s farm house, opens with a bright chorus of rejoicing at her approaching wedding. Dulcamara brings out a piece of music, which he says is the latest thing from Venice, a barcarole for two voices. He and Adina sing it; a dainty duet, "Io son ricco, e tu sei bella" (I have riches, thou hast beauty) which figures in all the old potpourris of the opera.

There is a scene for Nemorino, Gianetta, and the peasants, in which Nemorino praises the elixir, "Dell elisir mirabile" (Of this most potent elixir). Later comes another duet for Adina and Dulcamara, "Quanto amore!" (What affection!) in which Adina expresses her realization of the death of Nemorino’s affection for her.

"The score of ‘Elisire d’Amore," says the Dictionnaire des Opéras, "is one of the most pleasing that the Bergamo composer has written in the comic vein. It abounds in charming motifs and graceful melodies. In the first act the duet for tenor and bass between the young villager and Dr. Dulcamara is a little masterpiece of animation, the accompaniment of which is as interesting as the vocal parts. The most striking passages of the second act are the chorus, ‘Cantiamo, facciam brindisi’; the barcarole for two voices, ‘Io son ricco, e tu sei bella’; the quartet, ‘Dell’ elisir mirabile’; the duet between Adina and Dulcamara, ‘Quanto amore; and finally the lovely and smoothly-flowing romance of Nemorino, ‘Una furtiva lagrima,’ which is one of the most remarkable inspirations of Donizetti."

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