Major Operas | L’elisir d’amore by Gaetano Donizetti | Early Romantic

The Elixir of Love

Donizetti’s prolific output owed a great deal to the speed with which he was able to compose. He could compose operas at the rate of three or four a year. However, even this rate of production was overtaken by the mere fortnight it took him to write the music for L’elisir d’amore.

This pastoral comedy was his forty-first opera in 16 years, and premiered at the Teatro della Canobbiana in Milan on 12 May 1832. L’elisir owes much of its enduring popularity to ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ (‘One Furtive Tear’), the exceptionally beautiful tenor aria in Act II sung by the opera’s hero, Nemorino.

Composed: 1832
Premiered: 1832, Milan
Libretto by Felice Romani, after Eugène Scribe

Act I

The wealthy Adina relaxes with her friend Giannetta and peasants, while Nemorino, her admirer, looks on. He is a poor villager and laments that he can offer her nothing but his love. Adina relates the story of Tristan, who drank a love potion to make Isolde return his love. A drum roll announces the arrival of Sergeant Belcore, who asks Adina to marry him. She refuses, but says she will consider it. Nemorino, wishing he had Belcore’s confidence, shyly declares his love to Adina. She answers that she is fickle and enjoys her freedom, and that he would do better to leave for the city and tend to his rich, ailing uncle.

The travelling quack Dr Dulcamara arrives in the town square, selling his new medicine. Nemorido asks whether he has a love potion like the one in Adina’s story. Dulcamara produces a bottle – which contains cheap wine – and tells Nemorino that it is just what he is looking for. Nemorino drinks the ‘love elixir’ and ignores Adina when she arrives, trusting in the magic of the elixir to win her heart. Adina is annoyed by his coldness and flirts with Belcore, who announces that he must leave and that she should marry him immediately; she accepts. Nemorino begs for the wedding to be postponed, worried that it will be over before the elixir starts to take effect. Adina ignores his pleas and invites everyone to her wedding.

Act II

Everyone, with the exception of Nemorino, celebrates the approaching marriage. Dr Dulcamara suggests that Adina and Belcore sing a duet about a girl who chooses a poor man over a rich suitor. The couple prepare to sign the marriage contract, but to Adina’s annoyance Nemorino is not present; she postpones the wedding until nightfall. Nemorino pleads with Dulcamara for another bottle of the magic elixir, but he is refused as he has no money. Belcore intervenes, revealing that if Nemorino signs up to the army immediately he will be rewarded in cash. Nemorino agrees and leaves to sign up.

Giannetta spreads the news among the women that Nemorino’s rich uncle has died, leaving him a fortune. Nemorino, dizzy after drinking another bottle of ‘elixir’, does not yet know this. As the girls...

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