Donizetti's 'l'Elisir d'amore' -
'... beguiling candour.'
With the world apparently in irremediable chaos, it badly needs a Dulcamara or Dr Encyclopaedia to rescue it from its follies. Donizetti thought of his opera in rural Sicily and probably contemporary with its composition in 1832, the year of our Great Reform Act, herald of so many democratic illusions. No matter that the director Laurent Pelly has set it among the haystacks and village square of today's Basque countryside. Would that his peasants were all politicians queuing for some helpful nostrum of genuine common sense from Dulcamara's vanful of quack cures. Advertisements for the remedy of every conceivable ill appeared on the screen during Donizetti's prelude; but I searched in vain for something to stimulate the brains of our various leaders.
There is danger in locating an opera that depends so much on the Tristan and Isolde story within a post-Wagnerian setting. Any mention of love philtres conjures in the mind that fatal shipboard encounter and the devastating sequel as the coast of Cornwall is reached. Donizetti is, alas, no match for the mighty Wagner. The gentle Nemorino of Paul Groves is quite content with two half-empty bottles of Bordeaux as supposed cure for his love problems. Vocally at ease for 'Una furtiva lagrima', the likeable Groves is perhaps too much the local butt to win the hand of his flighty landowning bride.
With Heidi Grant Murphy as Adina reading on a haystack about that powerful potion of former days and her farmworkers toiling with varied bursts of enthusiasm below, Nemorino complains of his unrequited love from above.
Watch and listen -- Quanto è bella, quanto è cara! (Act I)
(chapter 3, 7:00-7:56) © 2006 Bel Air Media -- Opéra national de Paris
It is then that Adina explains the fascination of the Tristan story, and how mightily that drug had worked on the former lovers. She herself is not yet prepared to dedicate her life to one man, least of all her social inferior, and explains her reaction to Isolde's position with beguiling candour.
Watch and listen -- Benedette queste carte! (Act I)
(chapter 4, 8:33-10:02) © 2006 Bel Air Media -- Opéra national de Paris
Nemorino can only yearn for Brangäne's love-drink.
His need becomes the more urgent with the arrival of the dashing Sergeant Belcore (Laurent Naouri), who is prepared to goosestep his way to public notice when need arises, but apparently falls in love with Adina at first sight and desires instantaneous marriage. He is personable enough, and his commanding baritone has every reason to make a distinct impression on Adina. He tempts her by describing the beauties of Paris and then sings passionately of his own devotion while pressing, as our Reform Actors might have said, his suit.
Watch and listen -- Or se m'ami, com'io t'amo (Act I)
(chapter 6, 18:17-19:10) © 2006 Bel Air Media -- Opéra national de Paris
A distraught Nemorino tries to prevent Adina's riding off on her bicycle.
Transport is admirably catered for in this production. Many of the peasants are sufficiently well paid by Adina to have bikes of far better appearance than my battered old Raleigh, and Nemorino can make a final entry on his tractor. Best of all is the pantechnicon belonging to Ambrogio Maestri's Dulcamara, with its half-open seated human body, as if purloined from some unwary medical school. The villagers are mesmerised by the portly Dulcamara's plausible claims, and the euros pour into his open hand as he convincingly boasts his cures.
Watch and listen -- Udite, udite, o rustici (Act I)
(chapter 9, 34:06-35:47) © 2006 Bel Air Media -- Opéra national de Paris
Nemorino now sees his chance, and happily consumes his ration of Bordeaux in the conviction that Adina will at last fall for him.
Typically the village women discover before Nemorino that his rich uncle has just died and left a fortune to his nephew. Naturally the Opera Chorus females are all over him, and Nemorino is convinced that indeed Dulcamara's wine has done the trick.
Watch and listen -- Io già m'immagino (Act II)
(chapter 26, 99:31-100:43) © 2006 Bel Air Media -- Opéra national de Paris
Adina's projected marriage to Belcore is off when she realises that Nemorino's devoted despair has made him join the army for love of her. Under some delightful star-spangled lighting by Joël Adam, Dulcamara rightly claims responsibility for the opera's happy outcome.
Watch and listen -- Ei corregge ogni difetto (Act II)
(chapter 31, 128:40-129:43) © 2006 Bel Air Media -- Opéra national de Paris
Orchestra and Chorus under Edward Gardner give every impression of enjoying themselves; I cannot wait to hear them in Wagner's retelling of Adina's story.
Copyright © 27 January 2009
Robert Anderson, Cairo, Egypt
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