Opera Essentials: L’elisir d’amore
As Laurent Pelly’s well-loved production returns to Covent Garden, a guide to Donizetti’s sparkling comic opera.
L’elisir d’amore was inspired by a French comic opera, Le Philtre (1831) by Daniel-François-Esprit Auber, with a libretto by Eugène Scribe. Gaetano Donizetti and Felice Romani transformed Scribe’s light drama into something far more moving, particularly in their treatment of Nemorino and of Adina – the flirt who gradually learns what love means. The character of Dulcamara may have been partly inspired by real quack doctors, of whom there were many in 19th-century Europe.
While Donizetti’s early biographers Alborghetti and Galli claimed that the composer and his librettist Romani wrote L’elisir d’amore in 14 days, it seems that the opera was, in fact, created in a period of about six weeks (even so, this is impressive!) The opera’s premiere was a triumph and secured Donizetti’s position as one of the leading Italian opera composers of his day.
Donizetti deftly brings each of the principal characters to life through his music. Nemorino’s tenderness is shown in his arias ‘Quanto è bella’ and ‘Una furtiva lagrima’. Belcore’s arrogance is illustrated in the pompous little march that accompanies him, and in his swaggering aria ‘Come Paride vezzoso’. Adina begins as a light-hearted coquette, her vocal line laced with brilliant coloratura, but her style becomes increasingly infected with Nemorino’s lyricism in Act II. Dulcamara’s delight in the sound of his own voice is shown in his rapid and constant patter-singing.
The Royal Opera’s production of L’elisir d’amore shows that Donizetti’s opera can be modernized while keeping the story intact. Inspired by his childhood, director Laurent Pelly sets the drama in a 20th-century village, to hilarious effect: Dulcamara drives about in a lumbering van, the village youths ride Vespas and everyone congregates at the shabby local bar. Oh, and watch out for the dog!
L’elisir d’amore will be on stage from 13 November – 7 December. Tickets are still available.