Setting: A 19th-century Italian village
The harvesters are resting from their labours while the landowner Adina reads a book. The peasant Nemorino admires Adina – so learned, so lovely, yet so uninterested in him. Adina bursts out laughing and is asked to explain. Mockingly, she relates how Tristan and Isolde were brought together by a love-potion.
To the sound of a drum, a troop of soldiers marches in, led by the handsome Sergeant Belcore, who promptly presents Adina with flowers as proof of his affection. He asks her when she will marry him; she defers the decision while Nemorino laments his shyness.
Left alone with Adina, Nemorino presses his suit. She palms him off; he would do better to visit his uncle, who is seriously ill. She is capricious, she tells him, and will never settle down. He is the opposite, he responds, and can think of no one but her.
To great tantara, the quack Dr Dulcamara arrives and starts selling his beauty treatments and cures for ailments. Nemorino asks if he has Queen Isolde’s love-potion. Yes, indeed, replies Dulcamara – and sells him a bottle of plonk that will take, he says, a day to work.
Nemorino drinks it and, feeling an immediate effect, tries its influence on Adina; he feels sure that she will be his within 24 hours.
Belcore enters, reinstating his claims. To spite the newly confident Nemorino, Adina agrees to marry Belcore in six days. Nemorino is exultant. But suddenly a despatch arrives ordering the soldiers away the following morning. Adina agrees to bring the marriage forward to that very day.
Nemorino pleads with her to wait one day longer, but to no avail. As the preparations begin, he is in despair.
The wedding celebrations are in full swing, though Adina is annoyed that Nemorino has not shown up to witness them. The notary arrives – but still no sign of Nemorino. Finally he enters, disconsolate, and appeals to Dulcamara to give him something that will make him immediately beloved. Dulcamara, who intends to leave within half an hour, offers another bottle, but Nemorino has no money to pay for it.
Belcore wanders in, wondering why Adina is now delaying the marriage formalities until the evening. He finds Nemorino desperate for money, and reminds him that he can earn 20 scudi – cash, on the spot – by joining the army. Nemorino signs up and, grabbing the money, goes in search of Dulcamara.
Meanwhile news is sweeping the village of the death of Nemorino’s uncle, who has left him a fortune. Suddenly, all the village girls are after him – which he puts down to the effect of the love-potion.
Dulcamara explains to the mystified Adina that the love-potion is clearly working for the poor, rejected lad. Feeling guilty, Adina vows to win his love back through other means.
Alone, Nemorino ponders the single tear he has seen in Adina’s eye. She must love him after all!
Adina approaches him shyly. He must not leave the village. She herself has bought back his army papers, and gives them to him. If she does not love him, he tells her, he would rather die a soldier – and promptly gives them back. Finally, she admits her feelings.
Belcore, finding them together, consoles himself with the thought of the thousands of other women in the world. The villagers wave goodbye to Dulcamara, who drives off to conquer new markets.
Words: George Hall