Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
L’Elisir d’amore - Comic opera in two acts (1832)
Adina - Valeria Esposito (soprano); Nemorino - Aquiles Machado (tenor); Sergeant Belcore - Enrico Marucci (baritone); Doctor Dulcamara - Erwin Schrott (bass); Gianetta - Roberta Canzian (soprano)
Chorus Lirico Marchigiano ‘V. Bellini’
Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana/Niels Muus
Stage Director - Saverio Marconi. Set and Costumes Designs - Antonio Mastromattei. Costumes - Silvia Aymonino
rec. live, Arena Sferisterio, Macerata, Italy, 2002
Television Director, Andrea Bevilacqua
Sound Format: PCM Stereo, DDD 5.1. DVD Format: DVD 9/ NTSC. Picture Format: 16:9
NTSC all regions. Picture format: 16.9 Colour. Sound formats: LPCM Stereo. DTS 5:1 Surround
Subtitles in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Chinese
Booklet essay in English, French, German
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 107007 [136:00]
L’Elisir d’Amore comes from that highly successful and creative period of Donizetti’s compositions between Anna Bolena in 1830 and Lucia di Lamermoor 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. It 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. C.U.P. 1982) “Donizetti for the first time demonstrated his full mastery of the buffa form”. The premiere of Donizetti's L’Elisir d’Amore was an overwhelming success and the opera went on to receive an unprecedented 31 performances in the season. The work is more opera buffa than comic opera, whilst the style of the melodic music superbly conveys the conflicting emotions of the participants. It even inspired Richard Wagner to produce a piano score of the work in 1840.
I am always intrigued as to how various producers manage the unique challenges of the Sferisterio Arena at Macerata. It was built in the 1830s to accommodate a ball game called pallone involving ricochets off the long wall. The stage is 14.5 metres deep and 40 metres wide with the arena seating nearly six thousand. The stage is sufficiently large for all kinds of events and spectacles.However, thesize and shape pose unique and significant problems, acoustic as well as stage usage and management for music events such as opera. The different approaches to the challenges are evident in the treatment of Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann by Frederic Chaslin in 2004 (see review) and that by the vastly experienced Pier Luigi Pizzi, now in overall charge, who produced Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda there in 2007 (see review). Pre-dating those performances, this production by Saverio Marconi takes a somewhat different approach. The first view of the stage shows what appears to be a large red box. This opens to reveal the orchestra in stepped rows and with space between the instrumental sections for singers to enter and exit via a set of stairs. The opera is played out on the apron in front of the orchestra, with the conductor having the odd moment of glory more than normal. The costumes are in the general period, perhaps twenty or so later than the year of composition. Sets are simple and wheeled on as required as in the case of Doctor Dulcamara’s cart and his collection of wonder cure elixir; elsewhere bales of hay represent the country setting.
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, meanwhile, has her dreams and later sets eyes and heart on Sergeant Belcore (baritone) who passes by with his platoon of soldiers. Nemorino hearing Adina sing of the legend of Tristan and Isolde (CH.5) and the love potion, yearns for such an elixir. Dulcamara, quack doctor (buffa bass) arrives, selling a cure-all potion. In the cavatina Udite, udite, o rustici he extols the virtues of his elixir (CH.12) and convinces Nemorino that his potion will bring Adina to love him. The naïve boy buys a bottle with what money he has whilst Belcore quickly impresses Adina and proposes marriage whilst Nemorino tries to convince her of the sincerity of his love. Nemorino keeps sipping it and soon becomes more confident, albeit slightly tipsy. He feigns indifference to Adina, which nettles her, and she promises to marry Belcore in six days time (CH.17). Meanwhile, Belcore learns that he and his troop have to leave that day and that he and Adina must marry that very evening (CHs.18-20).
Having no further money to purchase more of Dulcamara’s elixir, in desperation Nemorino signs to join Belcore’s troop and, convinced of its effects, spends his bounty in the hope of a miracle. The local girls learn that Nemorino has come into an inheritance and fawn over him (CH.29). He is even more convinced it is the effect of Dulcamara’s potion. Meanwhile, Adina discovers from Dulcamara what Nemorino has done to buy the potion, and, realising why, she relents, buys out his contract 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 (CH.40). Meanwhile Dulcamara ascribes all the happenings to his elixir in the patter aria Ei correge ogni difetto - it corrects every defect - (CH.41).
Whilst Niels Muus paces the music with delicacy, allowing his singers to phrase the music with character, their ability to do so is varied. Aquiles Machado as the love-sick Nemorino has two of the best tunes, starting in act one with Quanto e bella (CH.4) as heextols Adina’s beauty and then in act two as he notices a tear in her eye and sings the famous romanza Una furtive lagrima (CH.35). He is no match vocally for Rolando Villazon in the recently issued performance from The Grand Theatre del Liceu, Barcelona (see review) where the tenor’s varied tone and elegant phrasing forces a deserved encore. Machado over-sings both arias failing to invoke any of the magic to be found, particularly in the romanza, using an edge to his voice when more honeyed head tone and phrasing are required. His acting of the part is not helped by a less than appropriate figure du part to the extent that when he falls over tipsy, one fears he will roll (CH.16). Valeria Esposito as Adina is gentler in her phrasing and more varied in tone. She looks older than her would-be lovers, and although she characterises the role and acts with conviction, flashing eyes and smile, the legato line that marked her win in Cardiff in 1987 seems a thing of the past. Her coloratura is better when being chatted up by the none too vocally elegant Enrico Marrucci as Belcore, who at least plays the part of the upright macho womanising soldier well. The surprise of the casting is Erwin Schrott as Dulcamara. He is as far from the usual old buffer buffa as one can get, vocally as well as in appearance. With thigh high boots, a wisp of chest hair on view and firm abdominals, one can see that this Dulcamara fancies his chance with Adina who looks as though she might be tempted as he all but pinches her bottom (CH.31). Vocally, his bass baritone is as solid as his abs, rich, fluent and full of tease and fun. There is none of the vocal unsteadiness or spread of tone so often evident in the more geriatric singers cast in this key role. His portrayal puts a whole new perspective to the unfolding story and Dulcamara’s pre-departure sales pitch in the conclusion (CHs.40-41); with him around even the widows can dream dreams!
Robert J Farr

In a highly competitive market among DVDs of this popular and melodic opera, I would look elsewhere for better overall staging and also singing.