Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
L’Elisir d’amore -Comic opera in two acts (1832)
Adina, a rich and capricious farmer - Mariella Devia (soprano); Nemorino, a simple local in love with Adina - Roberto Alagna (tenor); Belcore, an army sergeant billeted in the village - Pietro Spagnoli (baritone); Doctor Dulcamara, an itinerant quack - Bruno Pratico (buffa bass); Giannetta, a country girl - Francesca Provvisionato (mezzo)
Tallis Chamber Choir; English Chamber Orchestra/Marcello Viotti
rec. All Saints Church, Richmond, England. October 1992. DDD

L’Elisir d’Amore comes from that highly successful and creative period between Anna Bolena in 1830 and Lucia di Lamermoor in 1835. Many of the works of that period, and those that followed, have, over the last decade or so, come back into fashion in staged performances. This is particularly so for the bel canto dramatic works such as Lucrezia Borgia (1833), Maria Stuarda (1835) and Roberto Devereux (1837). With worldwide staging right from its launch, L’Elisir d’Amore has never had to wait for revival or rediscovery. It has always had a place in the repertoire both in Italy and other major operatic centres. Yet it was completed in haste. Frustrated by the censors in Naples always wanting happy endings, the composer broke his contract with the theatre there, freeing himself to accept more frequent commissions elsewhere. He was approached to write an opera for the Canobbiana theatre in Milan when the contracted composer withdrew. The great, if rather vain and undependable poet, Romani, produced a libretto in a week whilst Donizetti is said to have composed the music in little over two. Certainly, as Ashbrook states (“Donizetti and his Operas”. C.U.P., 1982): “Donizetti for the first time demonstrated his full mastery of the buffa form.” L’Elisir d’Amore was an overwhelming success and received an unprecedented 31 performances. The work is more opera buffa than comic opera, whilst the style of the melodic music superbly conveys the conflicting emotions of the participants who are challenged to match it.
The story of L’Elisir d’Amore concerns the illiterate, rather gauche, country boy Nemorino (tenor) who loves Adina (soprano), a wealthy neighbour, who spurns his offers of love. He looks over to her and sings his lovelorn cavatina quanto é bella (CD 1 tr.3). She meanwhile sings to her friends of the love potion that bound Tristan and Isolde (tr.4). Hearing her, Nemorino dreams of obtaining such a potion. A lively march heralds the arrival of sergeant Belcore (baritone) and his platoon (trs.5-6). He quickly impresses Adina and proposes marriage whilst Nemorino tries to convince her of the sincerity of his love. With a fanfare Dulcamara (buffa bass), a quack doctor arrives, selling a ‘cure-all’ potion. In the cavatina Udite, udite, o rustici he extols the virtues of his potion (tr.10). Dulcamara convinces Nemorino that his potion will bring Adina to love him and the naïve boy buys a bottle with what money he has. In reality the potion is nothing more than red wine. Nemorino keeps sipping it and soon becomes more confident if slightly tipsy (trs.13-15). He feigns indifference to Adina, which nettles her, and she promises to marry Belcore (trs. 16-18). To purchase more of Dulcamara’s potion Nemorino, having no more money, has to sign to join Belcore’s troop (CD 2 tr.4). Adina discovers from Dulcamara what Nemorino has done to buy the potion, and why. She then relents and decides to win him by her eyes and smile (trs.9-11). Nemorino notices a tear in her eye and sings the famous romanza Una furtive lagrima (tr.11). Adina tells him of her love and all ends well with Belcore reflecting that there will always be girls in the next village (tr.14).
DVDs of L’Elisir d’Amore seem to be proliferating this year. The 2009 Glyndebourne performance (to be reviewed) joins that of the recently issued 2005 from Barcelona (see review) in quick succession. In both cases the all too obvious presence of an audience has disadvantages. It is therefore a particular pleasure to have this very well recorded audio-only studio recording back in the catalogue. It must have been one of Roberto Alagna’s earliest recordings and well before his assumption of heavier roles had coarsened his tone. Whilst not quite matching Pavarotti on his Decca recording, alongside Sutherland, Alagna’s singing of his introductory cavatina quanto é bella (CD 1 tr.3) and later the renowned romanza Una furtive lagrima (CD 2 tr.11) are elegantly phrased and appropriately poignant in expression. In between he admirably characterises Nemorino’s many changes of mood so as to make a significant contribution to the whole. Although French, Alagna’s parents were from Sicily and he is wholly comfortable in the language and its musical prosody. This is so vital in the bel canto operas where the vocal line and words sit so naturally on the music. It is particularly so where the conductor is as wholly sensitive and aware of the idiom, and sympathetic to the phrasing of his singers, as Marcello Viotti in this recording.
The rest of the cast are native-born Italians and it shows throughout in the manner of their singing, particularly their ease of diction and vocal expressiveness. This is particularly important for the singers of Belcore and Dulcamara. The young Pietro Spagnoli, who we have come to know as a leading exponent of Figaro in Rossini’s Il Barbiere (see review) and other roles in the genre, portrays the arrogant womaniser that is Sergeant Belcore to the manner born. He exudes glowing and arrogant self-confidence and bravura as he chats up the ladies and brushes aside the loss of Adina to Nemorino. Bruno Pratico is the Dulcamara in the DVD from Barcelona referred to above and where his acting overcomes some vocal wear and tear. Here he is far better disciplined as well as tighter vocally and gives a vivid and characterful representation of the conman cum quack doctor. If not quite erasing memories of Geraint Evans or Enzo Dara in the role, he is easy on the ear and conveys both the bravura and duplicity of the character.
As the spirited and strong-willed Adina, Mariella Devia is in her element. Her vocal expression is first rate with secure coloratura complementing her characterisation. Her diction is significantly better than Sutherland’s without detracting from the beauty of her singing whether as the capricious young woman, flirtatious nearly bride, or the eventual repentant lover of Nemorino. Francesca Provvisionato makes a worthwhile contribution and shows the promise realised in a few live recordings made later in the decade.
The accompanying leaflet has a track-listing and a track-related synopsis in English, French and German. There are also references to the availability of a copy of the score, including English translation, and also the libretto with German translation.
Robert J Farr
A very warm welcome to the return to the catalogue of this idiomatic and well sung performance .