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

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Love potions -- or at least hopeful notions of love potions -- have been around for a long time. And why not? The pleasures of romance are often painfully hard to come by, so the idea of a magic formula to turn endless frustration into instant passion can be pretty appealing.

Not surprisingly, love potions have turned up everywhere, from ancient fables to 1950's pop songs. Remember "Love Potion No. 9," by the Clovers? And while love potions also play a role in any number of operas, there are two that stand out above the rest -- and they couldn't be more different.

Based on a medieval legend, Wagner's emotionally driven Tristan and Isolde features an elixir that actually works, but with dire consequences. The romance that ensues leaves one lover deceased and the other demented.

Donizetti's The Elixir of Love, isn't nearly so intense. It's a lighthearted romp, featuring a phony love potion that's nothing but a bottle of cheap, red wine. Still, along with all the laughs, Donizetti's unassuming comedy does serve up a couple of solid insights. It demonstrates that, when it comes to love, the genuine article beats any potion-induced passion. And it suggests that when searching for a magic formula to stimulate the libido, human foibles can make placebos safer and more effective than any mysterious elixir.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents The Elixir of Love from one of the world's most glamorous operatic venues, the Bastille Opera in Paris -- in a production featuring tenor Roberto Alagna as the lovesick Nemorino, alongside soprano Aleksandra as Adina and baritone Ambrogio Maestri as Dr. Dulcamara, the shady salesman whose dubious tonic gets the story rolling.


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