L’Elisir d’Amore comes from that highly creative period of Donizetti’s compositions between Anna Bolena in 1830 and Lucia di Lammermoor in 1835. Many of the bel canto dramatic works of that period, and those that followed, are rapidly coming back into fashion. 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. It is more opera buffa than comic opera with the style of the melodic music superbly conveying the conflicting emotions of the participants. It even inspired Richard Wagner to produce a piano score of the work in 1840.
The story of L’Elisir d’Amore concerns the illiterate, rather gauche, country boy Nemorino who loves Adina, a wealthy neighbour, who spurns his offers of love. She sings to her friends of the love potion that bound Tristan and Isolde (CD1 Tr.4). Hearing her, Nemorino dreams of obtaining such a potion. A lively march heralds the arrival of sergeant Belcore and his platoon (Tr.5). He quickly impresses Adina and proposes marriage whilst Nemorino tries to convince her of the sincerity of his love. With a fanfare Dulcamara, a quack doctor arrives, selling a ‘cure-all’ potion. In the cavatina Udite, udite, o rustici he extols the virtues of his potion (Tr.9). 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 (Tr.15). 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 (CD 2 Tr.10). Adina tells him of her love and all ends well with Belcore reflecting that there will always be girls in the next village.
This recording was made in association with updated staged performances at the National Opera of Lyon, produced by Frank Dunlop, and of which a DVD exists (Decca 074 1039). However, it is not taken from a live performance. I do not know to what extent the two coincide as to the edition used. Certainly, the timing indicates that this is a cut performing edition and not a critical edition. Both the Erato performance, also featuring Alagna as Nemorino (see review), and that involving Sutherland and Pavarotti conducted by Bonynge (Decca 414 461), have more music than found here: six minutes and no less than nineteen minutes respectively.
The pairing of the two lovers, partners at the time in real life, involved Decca getting Alagna a transfer for the recording. He had signed for EMI while Gheorghiu was contracted to Decca. After protracted negotiations, but unlike football without a transfer deadline, she joined the EMI artist roster and many joint recordings, particularly of Puccini operas, followed. As far as this performance is concerned she is very much the star, portraying Adina as something of a feisty lass. She sings with a lovely phrased line with a light vocal tone and flexibility. Alagna’s singing lacks the honeyed tenor edge evident on his earlier Erato recording where his use of gentle head tone and elegant phrasing remind me a little of Pavarotti’s consummate portrayal for Bonynge. In this performance he sounds at times more throaty and strained by the tessitura whilst also singing Una furtive lagrima at a variant lower pitch than is normal.
Of the rest of the cast, Scaltriti is a tuneful suavely elegant Belcore. Alaimo’s Dulcamara does not efface memories of other Italian buffo basses that have essayed the role with more character and vocal relish. Evelino Pido on the rostrum conducts at a pace that keeps the story moving with zip whilst not stretching his singers to over-hurry when the moment for humour is ripe.
This issue comes with a detailed cast-list and track contents and timings as well as a track-related synopsis in English, French and German. Use the CD in your computer and go to www.deccaclassics.com/opera to access the libretto and English translation in addition to free bonus material. The libretto is suitable for mobile devices and printable PDF download.
Sadly, even at bargain price this version loses out to the earlier Erato set with the same tenor.
Robert J Farr