This was a new production for Glyndebourne in 2007. Unusually, it made its debut on the Glyndebourne Tour in the autumn of that year. Consequently, it was seen in the likes of the erstwhile industrial Stoke-on-Trent before seeing the light of day in the more salubrious environs of Sussex during the annual Glyndebourne Summer Festival. Equally unusually, three of the principals here made their debuts in the production on that tour and now reprise their interpretations in the famous house itself.
L’Elisir d’Amore comes from that highly successful and creative period of Donizetti’s compositions between Anna Bolena in 1830 and Lucia di Lammermoor in 1835. Many of the works of that period, and those which followed, are rapidly coming back into fashion, particularly the bel canto dramatic works such as Lucrezia Borgia (1833), Maria Stuarda (1835) and Roberto Devereux (1837). With worldwide staging L’Elisir d’Amore has never had to wait for revival or rediscovery. The work has always had a place in the repertoire both in Italy and other major operatic centres. Yet its composition 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 vain and undependable poet, Romani, produced a libretto in a week. Donizetti is said to have composed the music in little over two. Certainly, as Ashbrook states (Donizetti and his Operas, CUP, 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.
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. She sings to her friends of the love potion that bound Tristan and Isolde (Chs. 5-6). Hearing her, Nemorino dreams of obtaining such a potion. A lively march heralds the arrival of sergeant Belcore (baritone) and his platoon. 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 (Ch. 12). 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. He feigns indifference to Adina, which nettles her, and she promises to marry Belcore (trio Chs. 20-21). To purchase more of Dulcamara’s potion Nemorino, having no more money, has to sign to join Belcore’s troop. He does so with a large X. When Adina discovers from Dulcamara what Nemorino has done to buy the potion, and why, she relents and decides to win him by her eyes and smile. Nemorino notices a tear in her eye and sings the famous romanza Una furtive lagrima (Ch. 35). Adina tells him of her love and all ends well with Belcore reflecting that there will always be girls in the next village.
This staging, as is common nowadays, attempts an updating. Like the recent DVD of the 2005 Barcelona production (see review), this is set around the 1940s. Unlike that production, which is portrayed in some kind of low-down suburbia, this has pretensions to country life, albeit minimal. The women and men are dressed circa the 1940s, except, incongruously, Adina, who appears in chic flared trousers and blouse, more fin-de-siècle. Nemorino is dressed throughout in blue dungaree overalls. In the opening scene he is made fun of by Adina’s workers and made to look as if he is some pence short of a shilling. Meanwhile Adina plays it rather callously and more capriciously than usual. This makes her later change of heart towards Nemorino appear less a cause of love than a monetary investment in having, like the village girls fawning over him, discovered his acquisition of his late uncle’s farm and money.
Overall the singing is rather provincial. Peter Auty’s voice lacks Italianata and the requisite free ring at the top of the voice. Despite those limitations his phrasing is exemplary. He conveys the character well and sings his romanza with plangent tone (Ch. 35). As the rather viciously capricious Adina, and that is the presentation here in the opening scene, I did not find Ekaterina Siurina’s vocalisation wholly convincing. Her legato and phrasing in the middle voice is fine, but it is rather lacking in width and variation of tone with a sketchy trill and weaker lower notes (Chs.5-6). I note from reports that she withdrew from the second performance at least, and wonder if she was under the weather for this recording. Alfredo Daza is certainly a turn on for the local ladies, whilst his dark tone is inclined to spread under pressure (Ch.28). Luciano Di Pasquale’s Dulcamara makes an impressive entrance aided by his colourful handcart of elixirs and his own impressive size. The impact is somewhat diminished, as are his later contributions, by an extra to the normal cast of an assistant whose body art makes him more like a refuge from a footballers’ sauna … except for the top hat, that is! Di Pasquale’s over the top acting is par for the role although not erasing memories of the likes of Geraint Evans. His singing, in his native Italian, of his entrance aria Udite, udite, o rustico (Ch.12) and his fast patter, something of an extra achievement at Maestro Benini’s brisk tempi, are a delight. Eliana Pretorian is a vocal and acted success as Giannetta.
Except for its age (1992), and Pavarotti’s somewhat restricted movement and facial involvement, the naturalistic Metropolitan Opera’s staging by John Copley still appeals to me (see review). Add Kathleen Battle’s ideally acted Adina to Enzo Dara’s nonpareil Dulcamara and it presents the core of Donizetti’s comedy in its natural pastoral setting without the distractions of added gimmicks or updating. A more modern recording, and altogether better sung than in this performance, or that from Barcelona, involves the dream couple of the day, Alagna and Gheorghiu. Recorded in 2002 it is a production by Brian Dunlop from Lyon conducted by Evelino Pido. (Decca).
Robert J Farr