14 November 2014 at 6.29pm | 1 Comment
Quack, charlatan, cheat – fibber, peddler and all-round swindler – meet Dr Dulcamara! Or rather, let him introduce himself.
‘Udite, udite, o rustici’ (Listen up, you villagers!) is Dulcamara’s grand entrance to Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. He’s arrived fashionably late; we’ve already met the three other main characters and got to grips with their convoluted love triangle (hopeless Nemorino loves confident Adina; she loves him but doesn’t realize it and has decided to hitch herself to passing pompous soldier Belcore). But none of that matters to Dulcamara – he’s here to put on a show and make a fast buck while he's at it.
He’s sent an advance party to rally an audience, armed with a cornet and a fanfare. You might at first be reminded of the bombastic Belcore and his militaristic entrance – but there’s something wrong about this three-time fanfare, something... wonky, as it thumps jauntily onto the middle beat before enthusiastically skipping up an arpeggio.
Wonky or not, it does the job, and soon there’s a horde of villagers gathered. Their growing excitement is mirrored in throbbing bass, urgent horn calls and breathless vocal lines, plus some fabulously outrageous key changes (fortunately temporary) as they consider who the stranger could be: ‘Some GREAT person – maybe a DUKE – or something better!’
Eventually the great man arrives. While his ramshackle appearance might be a bit of a disappointment, Dulcamara makes up for the shortfall with opening music of portentous grandiosity. ‘Listen up!’, he says – and even the orchestra waits on his every word. In slow parlante he relishes the rapt attention – ‘You all know who I am, of course’ – his profound vocabulary – ‘the great, encyclopedic Dr Dulcamara’ – and some off-the-cuff hyperbole – ‘known throughout the universe, and – and – beyond!’.
A sighing violin melody takes us into the next section as Dulcamara modestly recommends his medicines, which benefit everyone and cure everything. He warms to his theme in a couplet that turns the melody on its head: Dulcamara charges up the scale in a vehement crescendo to proclaim what will be the key words of the aria: ‘Buy it – I’m selling for almost nothing!’.
Finally we get to the patter. By this point in the aria Donizetti’s audience would have been champing at the bit for a taste of this buffo baritone trademark, a waterfall of words delivered in next to no time. Donizetti has twisted the genre role slightly for Dulcamara – he’s no fussy old man, like the archetypal Bartolo in Le nozze di Figaro and Il barbiere di Siviglia. Instead, the composer and his librettist Felice Romani have ingeniously used the form to characterize a sales spiel of extraordinary vigour.
Accompanied by an insistent flute melody, Dulcamara enumerates the magical abilities of his mysterious tonic at top speed. There’s little melodic variation here for the doctor – the focus is on the words, spat out with the elation of the naturally verbose. Romani’s patter text moves brilliantly from ridiculous-sounding to more ridiculous-sounding – try the tongue-twisting ‘Gli apoplectic, gli asmatici, gli asfitici, gl’isterici, ’i diabetici’ (the apoplectic, the asthmatic, the asphyxiated, the hysterical, the diabetic’).
Dulcamara reaches his patter apex in a discussion of price, now with the whole woodwind chattering away at him. He should sell his potion for a 100 scudi, but he won’t; nor 30, nor 20 – but just for one scudo! The chorus exclaim their delight in a firm cadence. Dulcamara returns to the opening style as he carefully lays out this tremendous deal – before prompting his cornet player to take up that wonky fanfare.
Accompanied by the orchestra in a lilting oompahpah, this three-time melody becomes an infectiously catchy dance theme. The chorus flock around Dulcamara as the orchestra texture thickens. At the end Dulcamara can’t help taking the limelight again: he proclaims his happiness at returning to his home country, and how this has prompted his remarkable generosity (believe that if you like). But he soon joins the chorus in a rousing climax, reiterating those magic words – ‘Almost nothing! Almost nothing!’.
L'elisir d'amore runs from 27 May–22 June 2017. Tickets are still available.