L’Elisir d’amore, Opera by G. Donizetti
Gaetano Donizetti’s famous comic opera L’elisir d’amore (or The Elixir of Love) has held its fixed place in the operatic repertoire ever since its fantastic debut on 12 May 1832 at Teatro della Canobbiana in Milan. Its engaging plot and the Italian composer’s adept use of the humorous genre make for an exhilarating performance, as the guests of Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence will ascertain.
When he picked up the commission for L’elisir d’amore, Donizetti was badly bruised by the critical and commercial failure of his previous opera Ugo, Conte di Parigi. Fueled by the desire to earn back the critics’ and the public’s favour, the composer joined forces with librettist Felice Romani and worked tirelessly for six weeks until the new opera was done. L’elisir d’amore proved to be a genre-defining melodramma giocoso that decidedly redeemed its author.
The plot for Donizetti’s comedy was inspired by another contemporary opera, Daniel François Esprit Auber’s Le Philtre, with a libretto by Eugène Scribe, which had debuted in 1831. Given the two works’ close proximity, Romani introduced some important plot changes and new passages, many of which turned out to be of paramount importance for the opera’s success and long-lasting recognition.
L’elisir d’amore is a heart-warming – and funny – story about the poor peasant Nemorino who is desperate to win the love of Adina. The military man Belcore is in direct competition for the lady’s heart. By some happy coincidence, the slick salesman Dr Dulcamara rides into town just in time to offer Nemorino a magic elixir of love, which will purportedly make his dream come true. Actually, the mysterious potion is nothing more than red wine, and Adina ends up falling in love with Nemorino quite naturally, confirming the importance of sincerity and the immutability of fate in true Romantic fashion.
Although he was working under pressure, Donizetti did not cut any corners while he was composing L’elisir d’amore. Quite on the contrary: the opera’s opening is a miniature Baroque-styled symphony in its own right, the arias and ensembles have a characteristic flow that does effortless character development, and the personal qualities of each player shine through beautifully. Nemorino’s purity of heart is plain to see in solo numbers such as the famous ‘Una furtiva lagrima’, while Dr Dulcamara’s buffo arias deliver the belly laughs.