Discover the music of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore
Unlike Rossini’s glittering, cold humour, Donizetti’s here is softer, sunnier and more tender, revealing a human heart beneath the conventions and caricatures of the story. In many ways L’elisir anticipates the Romantic operas of Verdi, quietly unlacing the corset of comic opera and releasing musically into something more memorable, distinctive and inherently dramatic.
- Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) was a hugely prolific Italian composer, who wrote more than 60 operas during his lifetime. He started his career in an Italy whose opera scene was dominated by Rossini, imitating the elder composer in his early work, before developing a more fluid, emotional style of his own.
- Donizetti inherited a style of opera called ‘bel canto’ – literally, ‘beautiful singing’. It was a style whose focus was on vocal display, and musical thrills. Drama was very much secondary to virtuosity and dazzling technical display. Donizetti’s music provides a bridge between Rossini’s pure bel canto world and the Romantic operas of Verdi. The magic of L’elisir is its blend of human warmth and drama with its glittering musical numbers.
- L’elisir was the greatest success of Donizetti’s career. Gentler and sweeter than many other comic operas, the composer himself described it as a ‘melodramma giocoso’ (a cheerful melodrama). Nemorino’s famous aria ‘Una furtive lagrima’ (in which the hero expresses his deepest, most sincere emotions) proves that opera is no longer dealing with puppets, but real people.
- Stylistically L’elisir is wonderfully varied. Each of the characters sings music that reflects their own personality. So we get chattering patter-songs for salesman Dulcamara, simple folk-like sweetness from Nemorino, hearty choruses and lots of martial music for soldier Belcore. Most interestingly, we hear Adina’s music develop through opera, maturing from the brittle coquettish arias of Act I to a much more direct, heartfelt duets of Act II. We know Adina is falling in love with Nemorino because her style is becoming more and more similar to his.
Una furtive lagrima (Act II)
- Nemorino’s heartfelt sincerity is summed up in his extraordinarily beautiful aria ‘Una furtive lagrima’ (A single, secret tear). A solo bassoon sets up a mournful mood, which bursts suddenly into musical sunshine as Nemorino realises that Adina might love him after all and desperation turns to joy.
Io son ricco e tu sei bella (Act II)
- To entertain the guests as they wait for Adina and Belcore’s wedding, Dr Dulcamara persuades Adina to sing a duet with him. ‘Io son ricco e tu sei bella’ (I am rich and you are beautiful) imagines a flirtatious exchange between an elderly senator and a pretty young girl. You can hear both the stately, amorous man and the coy young woman in this frisky little dance, which plays this unlikely romance for comedy, keeping its tongue firmly in its cheek.