Metropolitan Opera Live in HD Broadcast: L’Elisir d’Amore
Transmission of Saturday, October 13, 2012, 12:55 P.M.
Model for Michael Yeargan’s design for Act II, scene 1, of L’Elisir d’Amore at the Met
Courtesy Metropolitan Opera Technical Department
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Music by Gaetano Donizetti
Libretto by Felice Romani
THE CAST (in order of vocal appearance)
Giannetta sop., ANNE-CAROLYN BIRD
Nemorino tenor, MATTHEW POLENZANI
Adina soprano, ANNA NETREBKO
Sgt. Belcore bar., MARIUSZ KWIECIEN
Dulcamara bar., AMBROGIO MAESTRI
Conducted by MAURIZIO BENINI
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus
Production: Bartlett Sher
Set designer: Michael Yeargan
Costume designer: Catherine Zuber
Lighting designed by: Jennifer Tipton
Chorus master: Donald Palumbo
Musical preparation: Jane Klaviter,
Robert Morrison, Gareth Morrell,
Howard Watkins, Liora Maurer
|Assistant stage directors: Gregory Keller,
Gina Lapinski, Louisa Muller
Stage band conductor: Jeffrey Goldberg
Recitative accompanist: Robert Morrison
Prompter: Jane Klaviter
Italian coach: Loretta Di Franco
Fight director: B. H. Barry
Production a gift of the
Monteforte Foundation, Inc.,
in honor of Wim Kooyker
Directed for Live Cinema by Gary Halvorson
HD host: Deborah Voigt
This performance of L’Elisir d’Amore will be
transmitted live, in high definition and
surround sound, into selected movie
theaters and will be shared with students
in more than 100 U.S. schools as part of
The Met HD Live in Schools program.
For information, visit
Bergamo-born Gaetano Donizetti (1797–1848) composed more than seventy operas before his career was cut short by illness in the early 1840s. L’Elisir d’Amore, one of his most beloved works, was composed in relative haste — Donizetti completed the operain the six-week period between the opening of his Ugo, Conte di Parigi on March 13, 1832, and the start of Elisir rehearsals in early May. The Elisir premiere, at Milan’s Teatro della Canobbiana on May 12, 1832, was a huge success; by the end of the decade, Elisir had been given productions in Naples, Milan, Berlin, Vienna, London, New York and Paris.
The first Metperformance of Elisir was a matinée on January 23, 1904. The cast was headed by tenor Enrico Caruso, who scored an enormous hit as the bumpkin Nemorino and made that character’s “Una furtiva lagrima” one of his signature arias for the rest of his life. Caruso (1873–1921), a native of Naples, was in his Met debut season when he sang his first Nemorino for the company; he was soon established as one of the Met’s top box-office draws, a great singer whose “common touch” was an important part of his popular appeal.
The Met’s brand-new production of L’Elisir d’Amore, directed by Bartlett Sher, had its first performance on September 24, 2012, with Maurizio Benini pacing Anna Netrebko, Matthew Polenzani, Mariusz Kwiecien and Ambrogio Maestri.
ACT I. Adina, wealthy owner of a local farm, her friend Giannetta and a group of peasants are resting beneath a shade tree on her estate. Nemorino, a young villager, watches from a distance, lamenting that he has nothing to offer Adina but love. The peasants urge their mistress to read them a story — how Tristan won Isolde’s heart by drinking a magic love potion. Sgt. Belcore swaggers in with his troop. The soldier’s conceit amuses Adina, but he is not dissuaded from asking her hand in marriage. Promising to think the offer over, she orders refreshments. When Adina and Nemorino are left alone, she tells him his time would be better spent looking after his ailing uncle than hankering after her, for she is fickle as a breeze .
In the town piazza, villagers hail Dr. Dulcamara, who enters in a magnificent carriage that proclaims the patent medicine he is selling. The quack declares his potion capable of curing anything. Since it is inexpensive, the villagers buy eagerly. When they have gone, Nemorino asks Dulcamara if he sells the elixir of love described in Adina’s book. Pulling out a bottle of Bordeaux, the charlatan declares this is the very draught. Though it costs him his last cent, Nemorino buys the wine and hastily drinks it. Adina enters to find him tipsy; certain he will win her love, he pretends indifference. To punish him, Adina flirts with Belcore, who, informed that he must return to his garrison, persuades her to marry him at once. Horrified, Nemorino begs Adina to wait one more day, but she ignores him and invites the entire village to her wedding feast. As the peasants shout taunts , Nemorino rushes away, moaning that he has been ruined by Dulcamara’s elixir.
ACT II. At a tavern, the pre-wedding supper is in progress. Dulcamara sits with the bride and groom. Adina is disappointed that Nemorino is not there to witness her happiness. The doctor suggests they blend their voices in a barcarole about a gondoliera and her wealthy suitor. Adina then goes off with Belcore to sign the marriage contract; the guests disperse. Remaining behind, Dulcamara is joined by Nemorino, who begs for another bottle of elixir; his pleas are rejected because of lack of funds. Belcore returns, annoyed because Adina has postponed the wedding until nightfall; spying Nemorino, he asks why the youth is so sad. Nemorino explains his financial plight, whereupon the sergeant persuades him to join the army to receive a bonus. Belcore leads Nemorino off to sign him up, enabling him to buy more elixir.
In the square, peasant girls learn from Giannetta that Nemorino’s uncle has died and willed him a fortune. When he reels in, giddy from a second bottle of wine, they besiege him with attention; unaware of his new wealth, he believes the elixir has taken effect. Adina and Dulcamara arrive in time to see him leave with a bevy of beauties, and she, angry that he has sold his freedom to Belcore, grows doubly furious. Scenting a new sale, Dulcamara claims that Nemorino’s popularity is due to the magic elixir. Adina replies that she will win him back through feminine charms. Reentering alone, Nemorino takes heart because of a tear he has seen on Adina’s cheek, but when she appears, he feigns disinterest. She confesses she bought back his enlistment papers because she loves him.
Back in the piazza, Belcore marches in to find Adina affianced to Nemorino; declaring that thousands of women await him, he accepts the situation philosophically. Attributing Nemorino’s happiness and inheritance to the elixir, Dulcamara quickly sells more bottles before making his escape.
Gaetano Donizetti, who was born in Bergamo in 1797 and died there in 1848, ranks with Rossini and Bellini as one of the triumvirate of great Italian bel canto opera composers of the first half of the nineteenth century. He was so prolific in setting both comic and serious subjects that the exact total of his operas is unknown (biographers say “about seventy”), yet until recently only a few (Lucia di Lammermoor, Don Pasquale, La Fille du Régiment and L’Elisir) have stayed in the repertory.
The wealth of melody and fun in Elisir makes it seem incredible that Donizetti wrote the score in only six weeks. Midway in his twenty-year span of productivity, the composer was given a commission by the manager of the Cannobiana, a Milanese theater, and his contract stipulated an early deadline. Hard put for a subject, Donizetti called upon the reliable versifier Felice Romani, who had supplied Bellini with La Sonnambula and Norma the previous year. Romani decided to modify Le Philtre, a French comedy by Eugène Scribe, which already had been set to music by Daniel-François Auber; such borrowing was common at the time. The immediate popularity of the result surprised Donizetti, who had no expectations for the premiere (May 12, 1832).
The ex-lawyer Romani had chosen well, for his characters offered a synthesis of sympathetic if two-dimensional types found as far back as the comedies of Plautus — the braggart soldier, the simple country boy, the coquettish girl who matures into a woman of feeling. L’Elisir d’Amore emerged as a work of amiable humor, save for the pensive “Una furtiva lagrima,” dashed off in an hour when the composer was suffering a severe headache. American audiences have enjoyed the score since June 18, 1838, when it was introduced in English at the Park Theater in New York. The Met premiere (Jan. 23, 1904) starred Sembrich, Caruso and Scotti. The Met’s current production, staged by Bartlett Sher, bowed on September 24, 2012. Anna Netrebko, Matthew Polenzani, Mariusz Kwiecien and Ambrogio Maestri headed the cast.
WHAT TO READ AND HEAR
Charles Osborne’s Bel Canto Operas of Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini (Amadeus) places the composer of L’Elisir d’Amore in the context of his era; a user-friendly guide to the composer and his oeuvre is William Ashbrook’s Donizetti and His Operas (Cambridge).
Nemorino was one of Luciano Pavarotti’s signature roles, and he is heard to brilliant effect on Richard Bonynge’s 1970 Decca recording, opposite Joan Sutherland’s somewhat starchy but authoritative Adina. The tenor is no less ebullient pursuing Kathleen Battle’s piquant heroine in his DG recording, with the forces of the Metropolitan Opera led by James Levine. Much of the gala atmosphere that imbues John Pritchard’s Covent Garden performance (Sony) comes from the incomparable Geraint Evans as Dulcamara. The vintage Italian flavor of Margherita Carosio’s Adina and Tito Gobbi’s Belcore enlivens Testament's 1952 Elisir; Andrew Shore is a boisterous Dulcamara on David Parry’s English-language Elixir (Chandos).
On DVD, Rolando Villazón and Anna Netrebko are in superb form in a 2005 Elisir from Vienna, conducted by Alfred Eschwé (Virgin). Pavarotti, Battle and Levine bring their star power to a telecast of John Copley’s 1991 Met production (DG); Pavarotti woos Judith Blegen in a 1981 performance of the Met’s previous Elisir, designed by Robert O’Hearn, in which Dulcamara — sung vividly by Sesto Bruscantini — makes his entrance in a hot-air balloon (Decca). Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu, paced by Evelino Pidò, offer neat teamwork in a Lyon performance (Decca). Renata Scotto is a glowing Adina, Carlo Bergonzi an endearing Nemorino, in a 1967 Elisir from Florence (Hardy Classics; also Opera d’Oro CD).
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