Why “The Elixir of Love” Makes Opera Appealing

There are many who scoff at the idea of listening to, let alone attending, an opera. They picture one of Wagner’s heavy pieces (his are all heavy, actually), and cover their ears at the thought of enduring such torture of a four hour set of songs sung in another language. But these are ones who have never been introduced to the possibility of lighter fare, with such composers as Mozart and Puccini. Seeing an opera in action—the singing, the costumes, the scenery—creates an enjoyable atmosphere that even the skeptical can enjoy.

Gaetano Donizetti

Consider Gaetano Donizetti’s (1797-1848) opera, “L’Elisir d’Amore” (“The Elixir of Love”), a lively, funny and colorful work. Donizetti and Librettist Felice Romani (1788-1865) created a hit comedy that premiered in 1832. It was beautifully performed Saturday night with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra.

Here is the cliff note version of the story:

Nemorino (fabulously sung by Stanford Olsen), a young farmer, falls in love with Adina (Stacey Tappan), a wealthy landowner. She relates the story of “Tristan and Isolde” (one of Wagner’s operas, by the way) where Tristan drank a love potion to win Isolde. Despite his declaration of love, Adina tells Nemorino to take a hike. Belcore (Grant Youngblood), a sergeant of the local garrison, is also in love with Adina, and after telling her how great he is, he tells her that she would be a fool not to marry him, especially since women are attracted to men in uniform, he reasons.

Casey Candebat as Nemorino, Loyola University New Orleans, 2009

Enter Dulcamara (Kevin Glavin), a traveling quack doctor/con man who promises healing from tumors and hypertension with his special potion, which is really cheap Bordeaux. Nemorino desires a love potion, so Dulcamara adds this to the list of cures possible with his special potion. Nemorino drinks it and Dulcamara tells him it will take a full day, which is just enough for the doctor to skip town before his victims are on to him.

Belcore receives word he and his troops must leave immediately, so he insists that Adina marry him that night. Nemorino begs Adina to wait to allow enough time for the love potion to take effect, but she’s having more fun making Nemorino jealous so she agrees to marry Belcore.

Nemorino joins the army to be able to afford more love potion before the wedding. When Nemorino’s wealthy uncle dies and leaves everything to his nephew, everyone but Nemorino is aware of this. Suddenly the women are clawing at him and he’s convinced it’s the love potion. When Adina catches him surrounded by women, she wants him after all and swears her own love to him. They sing, kiss, and everyone’s happy. Dulcamara credits his magic elixir. Belcore makes it known to Adina there are other fish in the sea, so he’s not too worried about her jilting him. And everyone sings Dulcamara’s praises.

The end.

Watching an opera performed live is a different experience than simply hearing one via the radio or on a CD, or even viewing it on television. What makes the experience thrilling is being able to see the action and to observe the facial expressions of the artists. The singers, with their controlled, melodic voices, make the story spring to life as they parade around the stage in bright costumes.

In Donizetti’s two-hour opera, the music is light and fluid instead of heavy and too demanding. The scenery of a 19th century Italian village for “The Elixir of Love” was also splendid in Saturday’s concert. A perfect score for an opera buff and a beginner.

Here is a video of one of the more popular songs, “Una furtive lagrima,” from the opera, sung by Roberto Alagna

And another video, sung by the late, great Luciano Pavarotti

Next Jacksonville Symphony concert:
February 24-26, 2011

Tchaikovsky’s Fourth
Stravinsky: Violin Concerto
Jennifer Frautschi
Tchaikovsky: Symphony no. 4

Upcoming Performances:
Feb. 9, 11 & 12, 2011

J.S. Bach: Orchestral Suite no. 3
Haydn: Cello Concerto no. 2
Mario Brunello
C.P.E. Bach: Symphony in G major
Schubert: Symphony no. 5
San Francisco Symphony

Feb. 10-12, 2011
Haydn: Symphony no. 59, “Fire”
Chin: Cello concerto (American Premiere)
Dvorak: Silent Woods for cello and orchestra
Alban Gerhardt
Sibelius: Symphony no. 5
Boston Symphony Orchestra

Feb. 10-12, 2011
Beethoven: Piano Concerto no. 3
Jonathan Biss
Shostakovich: Symphony no. 5
New York Philharmonic

Feb. 10-12, 2011
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto
Serge Zimmermann
Tchaikovsky: Symphony no. 5
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Feb. 10-12, 2011
Schubert: Symphony in B minor, “Unfinished”
Bernstein: Suite from A Quiet Place
Beethoven: Symphony no. 7
The Philadelphia Orchestra

Feb. 10-12, 2011
Beethoven: Piano Concerto no. 3
Radu Lupu
Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony
National Symphony Orchestra

Feb. 10-13, 2011
Wagner: Prelude and Liebestod from “Traistan und Isolde”
Liszt: Piano Concerto no. 1
Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Dallas Symphony Orchestra

Feb. 10-12, 15, 2011
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto
Vadim Repin
Brahms: Symphony no. 3
Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Feb. 11 & 12, 2011
Haydn: Cello Concerto in C major
Lynn Harrell
Dvorak: Slavonic Dances
Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Feb. 11-13, 2011
All Ravel
Rapsodie espagnole
Don Quixote a Dulcinee
Houston Symphony

Feb. 12, 2011
Mozart: Quintet for Piano and Winds
Beethoven: Piano Concerto no. 3
Jonathan Biss
New York Philharmonic

Feb. 12 & 13, 2011
Gershwin: An American in Paris
Marsalis: Swing Symphony (West Coast Premiere)
Los Angeles Philharmonic

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3 Responses to Why “The Elixir of Love” Makes Opera Appealing

  1. LaSharron says:

    This looks like an opera I would attend. It seems cute and funny. I would rather watch an opera than listen. I can appreciate the singers and their voices on a CD, but I can appreciate the story watching it.

  2. Merle says:

    Saved as a favorite, I love your site! 🙂

  3. Gina says:

    Thanks for posting this. “Elixir of Love” is one of the first operas I ever went to. You brought back some very good memories for me!

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