Passions and Potions: Donizetti's 'The Elixir of Love'

WOO-1301-Elixir-300Donizetti's opera was first performed in Milan, in 1832. It's in two acts, and takes place in and around a small Italian village. In ACT ONE Adina, a farm owner, tells her workers the ancient story of Tristan and Isolde, and their powerful love potion. She finds the idea of a love potion intriguing, but laughable. One of the workers is a kind soul called Nemorino. He's in love with Adina, and thinks he just might need a magic elixir to win her over.

Also on the scene is a dashing soldier named Belcore. He's quite the ladies man, and turns his brazen attentions to Adina. She warns him not to be overconfident — but she's plainly taken with him, much to Nemorino's dismay. Nemorino tells Adina, for the umpteenth time, that he'd die for her. She tells him to knock it off, and says she could never love him.

All this makes Nemorino a perfect customer for Dr. Dulcamara, a newcomer in town. He's a traveling salesman peddling his wares. His biggest seller is a love potion -- which is actually just some re-packaged red wine. Nemorino buys Dulcamara's sales pitch, and a bottle of the potion. Dulcamara tells him he should drink it right away, but it won't take effect for 24 hours -- giving Dulcamara plenty of time to skip town.

WOO-1301-Elixir-300-2Nemorino guzzles the wine. It has no effect on his desirability, but it does make him more confident. He's sure that when the 24 hours have passed, Adina will be his. But this confidence doesn't last long. He soon learns that Adina has agreed to marry Belcore that very night. While everyone else is celebrating the news, Nemorino is crushed.

As ACT TWO begins, the feast to celebrate Adina's wedding is well underway, with the ceremony to follow shortly. A notary arrives to finalize things, but Adina puts him off. She wants Nemorino there, and he's nowhere to be found, so the ceremony is postponed.

As for Nemorino, he hasn't given up yet. He wants to buy more love potion from Dulcamara, but he's broke. Belcore comes to the rescue, telling Nemorino that if he enlists in the army, he'll immediately get a bounty. Nemorino signs the papers, takes his payment, and spends it all on Dulcamara's elixir.

When Nemorino drinks the love potion, he suddenly finds himself surrounded by adoring women -- though not for the reason he thinks.

Before long, Nemorino finally gets a break -- though it has nothing to do with the potion. Some local peasant girls have learned that Nemorino's rich uncle has died, and left Nemorino all his money. Suddenly, he's the most popular bachelor in town. But Nemorino hasn't heard about his uncle yet. He assumes his unexpected popularity is the potion taking effect.

WOO-1301-Elixir-300-3When Adina finds Nemorino surrounded by young women, she's amazed as well, and even she begins to see him in a different light. She buys Nemorino's enlistment papers back from Belcore, and presents them to Nemorino. Despite his sudden success with the ladies, he tells her he'd rather die than have any woman but her.

Hearing that, Adina realizes that she's loved him all along, and the two agree to be married. Dulcamara looks on with great excitement. Convinced that all this is the result of his product, he eagerly leaves town to market the elixir elsewhere.