DONIZETTI: Elisir d'amore

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Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) - L’elisir d’amore

A melodramma giocoso in two acts, to a libretto by Felice Romano, after Scribe’s text for Auberís opera Le philtre. From its very first performance L’elisir d’amore has been admired by opera lovers for its gaiety, lyricism and bitter-sweet humour. During those years when Donizetti was ‘out of fashion’ in most of the world’s opera houses, it remained one of the handful of his works that was occasionally produced - almost always to enthusiastic acclaim. After its immensely successful 1832 Milan première the opera was soon heard throughout Italy, and reached London’s Lyceum Theatre in 1836. New York saw L’elisir two years later when it was staged at the Park Theatre, but it first graced the boards of the Met only in January 1904, when the starry cast made the wait almost worthwhile; Enrico Caruso as Nemorino, Marcella Sembrich as Adina and Antonio Scotti as Belcore. Caruso’s celebrated successors at the Met included the golden Beniamino Gigli, the honeyed Tito Schipa and, as we know from this recording, the plangent-toned Ferruccio Tagliavini. Bidù Sayão inherited the role of Adina from, most famously, the brilliant Frieda Hempel, and added her own inimitable lively charm for the eighteen performances of it that she sang with the Met company; all in all a promising cast for this Christmas Eve performance of 1949.

Nemorino was one of Tagliavini’s great roles; not only had he the most exquisite lyric tenor voice of his day - a true tenore di grazia - but he relished opportunities to display the sense of fun that the role demands. At his first appearance, as Nemorino apostrophises on the beauty of the distant Adina, Tagliavini immediately demonstrates his celebrated sweetness of tone, and sweet it stays throughout almost the entire opera; at times he forces, to make a momentary effect and the voice hardens, but his remains one of the most elegant of all Nemorinos. His piéce de résistance, ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ in the final scene, is among the best examples of Donizetti singing on record - no wonder Tagliavini was so much admired during the 1940s and 50s when he was at his vocal peak. Listen, too, to the duet at the close of the first scene; how this lovelorn young peasant pleads in vain with Adina, and how she care-lessly rejects him! This shows them both at their characterful best.

Adina, of course, must also be sweet of voice - and hard of heart - until her final capitulation in the last scene; she flirts and rebuffs by turns. By the time she first sang the role at the Met in 1941, Sayão had already perfected the art of soubrettish charm; her portrayals of Mozart’s Susanna and Zerlina were good training grounds, and in L’elisir her teasing is at its most accomplished! Try the trio with Nemorino and Belcore in Scene 2 in which, to the peasant’s despair, she promises marriage to the soldier within six days. Each character has an ‘agenda’ - and Belcore doesnít see that he is the dupe, the victim of Adinaís wiles. In her conciliation with Nemorino she is truly penitent and Sayão conveys that contrition with warm tone and, finally, gentleness.

Valdengo’s Belcore adds further delight to the performance as the soldier’s gallantry is caught so well in his entrance aria. He himself proclaims ‘...No young woman can resist the sight of a military uniform...’; and listen to Baccaloni’s outrageously bombastic patter song in the second scene as he sells his magic potion. It’s no surprise that the chorus of villagers fall headlong for them both! These four principals make an ideal quartet to portray Donizetti’s colourful characters, and Maestro Antonicelli guides the whole piece along with verve and style, with discreetly appropriate harpsichord continuo (perhaps played by the conductor himself?).

Much affectionate seasonal merriment is served up to this appreciative Christmas Eve audience at the Met, and happily we too can enjoy a potent dose of Donizetti’s appetising elixir over fifty years later!

L’elisir d’amore was first performed on 12 May 1832 at the Teatro della Cannobiana, Milan.

L’elisir d’amore: SynopsisCD1 Act IThe scene is set in an Italian village in the eighteenth century. The first act opens at the entrance to a farm. In the background the open country can be seen, with a river, on the banks of which some women are washing clothes. In the centre is a large tree under which the peasant girl Giannetta and the men and women harvesters are resting. Adina, tenant of the farm, sits apart, reading. Nemorino, a simple young peasant, watches her from a distance.

1 Prelude

2 Giannetta and the other peasants sing of the pleasure of resting when the sun is hot (Bel conforto al mietitore) and of the difficulty of avoiding the heat of love (d'amor la vampa ardente).3 Nemorino is watching Adina reading and thinks how beautiful she is (Quanto è bella, quanto è cara!). He thinks that he has no hope, because Adina is so clever and he is always so foolish (io son sempre un idiota).4 Nemorino wonders how he can make Adina love him.

5 Adina laughs with delight at the story she is reading (Benedette queste carte!) and, when the others ask her to tell them what the book is about, she tells them that it is the story of Tristan, a love-story. Nemorino comes nearer, so that he may hear. Adina begins to read aloud the story of Yseult and Tristan (Della crudele Isotta) and how she was cruel and hard-hearted, until Tristan found a love philtre, an elixir of love. Adina turns to the peasants and tells them she wishes she could find such a perfect elixir. She continues to read of how Yseult then fell in love with Tristan, as soon as she had drunk the potion, and lived from then on faithful to him. All wish they could find such a potion.6 A march is heard and they all rise to their feet. Sergeant Belcore enters, with a band of soldiers. He approaches Adina and greets her, giving her a little bunch of flowers, with all the confidence of a soldier, comparing himself favourably to Paris, son of King Priam, who gave the apple to the goddess of his choice (Come Paride vezzoso). He is more glorious than Paris, because, giving these flowers, he knows he has Adina's heart. Adina comments ironically on Belcore's modesty, to the agreement of the others.

7 Nemorino is upset at Belcore's apparent success, but the latter continues, sure of his victory and his irresistible charms, nothing surprising since he is a gallant sergeant (son galante, e son sargente), and Mars, god of war, conquered Venus, Cupid's mother. Adina comments again on Belcore's modesty and Nemorino on what seems to be his success. Belcore goes on to demand that Adina name the day. She, however, is in no hurry, while Nemorino continues to despair. Belcore points out that in love and war there is no room for delay (in guerra ed in amore/è fallo d'indugiar), but she refuses to give in, remarking that these men sing of victory before they have started to fight. Nemorino, still talking to himself, wishes for the courage that Cupid might give him (Un po' del suo coraggio / Amor mi desse almeno!). Belcore demands surrender (Su, su, capitoliamo), but Adina insists she is no hurry (Signor, io no ho fretta). Giannetta thinks it would be funny if Adina fell for Belcore (Davver saria da ridere / se Adina ci cascasse), but she is an old fox, too clever for that. The pe
Disc: 1
L'Elisir d'Amore
1 Act I: Prelude
2 Act I: Bel conforto al mieitore
3 Act I: Quanto e bella, quanto e cara!
4 Act I: Chi la mente mi rischiara
5 Act I: Benedette queste carte!
6 Act I: Come Paride vezzoso
7 Act I: Or se m' ami come io t'amo
8 Act I: Intanto 'o mia ragazza
9 Act I: Chiede all'aura lusinghiea
10 Act II: Che vuol dire cotesta suonata
11 Act II: Udite, udite, o rustici
12 Act II: Ardir! Ha forse il cielo
13 Act II: Caro Elisir! sei mio!
14 Act II: Esulti pur la barbara
15 Act II: Lallarala la la la la
16 Act II: Ebben gentil sargente
17 Act II: Signor Sargente, signor sargente
18 Act II: Adina credimi, te ne scongiuro
19 Act II: Andiam Belcore
20 Act II: Fra lieti concenti, gioconda brigata
Disc: 2
Pagliacci: Qual fiamma avea nel ardo
1 Act III, Scene 1: Canitamo, canitam, canitam
2 Act III,Scene 1: Poiche cantar vi alletta
3 Act III, Scene 1: Io son ricco e tu sei bell
4 Act III, Scene 1: Silenzio! E qua il Nataro
5 Act III, Scene 1: Le feste nuziali son piacevoli a
6 Act III, Scene 1: La donna e un animale
7 Act III, Scene 1: Venti scudi! E ben sonanti
8 Act III, Scene 1: Qua la mano giovinotto
9 Act III, Scene 2: Saria possibile?
10 Act III, Scene 2: Dell' elisir mirabil
11 Act III, Scene 2: Come sen va contento!
12 Act III, Scene 2: Quanto amore! ed io spietata
13 Act III, Scene 2: Una furtiva lagrima
14 Act III, Scene 2: Eccola, Oh! qual le accresce bel
15 Act III, Scene 2: Prendi: prendi per me sei libero
16 Act III, Scene 2: Addio! Che! mi lasciate?
17 Act III, Scene 2: Alto! fronte! Che vedo?
18 La Boheme: O soave fanciulla
19 I Pagliacci: Qual fiamma avea nel ardo
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