L`elisir d`amore (Melodramma giocoso in two acts)
Performed in Italian (with synchronised Russian supertitles)
The performance has 1 intermission
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes
melodramma giocoso in two acts
Music: Gaetano Donizetti
Libretto by Felice Romani
Performed in Italian
Stage Director and Costume Designer: Laurent Pelly
Stage Director for the Mariinsky Theatre: Christian Rath
Set Designer: Chantal Thomas
Assistant Set Designer: Caroline Ginet
Lighting Designer: Joel Adam
Musical Preparation: Irina Soboleva
Principal Chorus Master: Andrei Petrenko
Italian Language Coach: Maria Nikitina
In the spring of 1832 the impresario of the Teatro alla Canobbiana, the second largest theatre in Milan, was facing hard circumstances: the theatre had not received the score of an opera due to be premiered there soon. The impresario turned to Donizetti with the request of reworking one of his old scores for him. “I am not used to covering up either my own or other people`s cracks. It would be better, with Romani helping me, to compose a new opera,” the composer told him. That very day he went to the librettist Felice Romani and said “I have promised to set some poem to music within two weeks. I`ll give you a week for the libretto. Let`s see which of us is more daring. But bear in mind that we have a German prima donna, a tenor who hiccups, a buffo with a voice like a goat and a French bass who is quite cheap, but we have to emerge from all of this with honour. Dear Romani, hang on – and onwards!” The premiere took place two weeks later.
That is the story behind the composition of L`elisir d`amore according to Romani`s widow Emilia Branca. She wrote her memoirs almost forty years later. In 1832 Emilia Branca was a young girl, the daughter of a close friend of Donizetti and Romani. That is why we can lend greater trust to her personal impressions of Bellini and Donizetti than just the mere historical facts. According to Branca, at that time Donizetti was so handsome, clever and talented that all of Milan`s female residents were mad about him. In artistic salons and in his friends` houses, the composer often sang, brilliantly accompanying himself, engaging the audience with romances and songs from various regions throughout Italy performed in the appropriate dialects.
In the Branca household, for example, immediately after composing it he gave a virtuoso performance of Dulcamara`s first aria, delighting all who were present.
The Teatro alla Canobbiana`s impresario Alessandro Lanari asked Donizetti and Romani to help out his theatre, it would seem, in March 1832 following the premiere of Ugo, conte di Parigi. The poet and the composer studied the latest arrivals from Paris (and Romani regularly received the very latest literature from France) and settled on the libretto for the opera Le Philtre, which had been written by Eugene Scribe for Auber (the premiere of that opera took place in Paris in June 1831). Romani left not just the plot but also the main collisions of Scribe`s libretto completely unaltered. The characters were given new names: Theresine became Adina, Guillaume became Nemorino, Dr Fontanarose became Dulcamara and Jolicoeur became Belcore. The season at the Canobbiana opened on 23 April with the opera semiseria L`orfanella di Ginevra by Luigi Ricci. Donizetti attended a performance to meet the singers. “Last night was a revelation, the tenor was magnificent, the prima donna has a glorious voice, but she alone knows what she is singing. Buffo is a dog,” he wrote to his father. By this time, the music of L`elisir was completely ready and orchestral rehearsals began while Romani was putting the final touches to the text. It was probably about these last two weeks before the premiere that Emilia Branca had written. In frenzied haste, the composer and the poet assembled an integral work from the complete sketches. At times they argued bitterly. For example, Romani did not want to include yet another tenor aria in the opera`s finale, believing it would slow down the plot. Hearing the melody the composer proposed, he was unable to hide his indignation: “Why on earth would this village idiot come in and sing in a pathetique manner when he is supposed to be happy and bright?” Apropos, Donizetti insisted on it and, as time has shown, he was absolutely right.
The evening of 12 May was a triumph for the composer, the poet and the cast. The role of Adina was performed by Sabine Heinefetter, one of three sisters who had conquered various opera houses. Buffo the Dog was none other than Giuseppe Frezzolini, one of the most famous comics of his time and the father of the young Erminia, who subsequently became one of the finest performers of operas by Donizetti and Verdi. The French bass (a baritone in today`s terminology) Henri-Bernard Dabadie was the principal performer in Le Comte Ory (Raimbaud) and Guglielmo Tell (title role) by Rossini, and he also sang the role of Jolicoeur at the premiere of Auber`s Le Philtre. The Gazzetta privilegiata di Milano wrote that “... this opera, beautiful from start to finish, has deservedly brought the composer and the performers widespread acclaim... The arias, duets, tercets and ensemble scenes in Acts I and II are all beautiful, incredibly beautiful, and it was well met. It is not an easy task to say which number is the best… We must also mention that the composer was applauded after each number, and when the curtain went down, he was called back again and again along with the singers, giving praise and expressing their approval. The score is distinguished by the lively, brilliant musical style of a genuine comic opera. The transition from the comic to the serious is done with incredible subtlety and impetuosity, and filled with the musical passion that is characteristic of the composer of Anna Bolena.”
In the first season, the opera was performed thirty-two more times, and since then it has triumphantly taken its place at opera houses all over the world. Without exaggeration, L`elisir d`amore can be called a consummate masterpiece. There is nothing superfluous in the opera, not a single page that contains less power and expression than the opera as a whole. The fast-moving action, the multi-faceted depiction of the main characters, the diversity of the musical forms – these are just some of the features that determine the great merit of this comedy.
In the summer of 1832, Donizetti recalled L`elisir d`amore once more. Giovanni Ricordi, who was preparing the score of the opera for publication, wrote a letter to the composer asking him to whom he wished to dedicate the opera. Typically, the first publication of a score or piano version was dedicated to a local aristocrat. The composer replied “I am very flattered that you have given me the chance to choose the object of the dedication. Let it be ‘To the women of Milan.`”
Harvest time in a village. It is the middle of the day and all are resting after lunch. The young peasant Nemorino, as usual, admires from afar the beautiful Adina, the rich and capricious farmer`s daughter (Quanto и bella). Adina, a passionate reader, is perusing a volume detailing the legend of Tristan and Isolde and laughing about the story of the love potion. She then tells the story to the peasants (Della crudele Isotta). Sergeant Belcore appears; he has recently been appointed a squadron commander. He publicly declares his affections for Adina and proposes to her (Come Paride vezzoso). Adina asks him to wait a little with her answer (Non и sм facile, Adina a conquistar) and invites him inside and brings him water. The despairing Nemorino reveals his love to Adina and threatens to kill himself but Adina dissuades him. Empty-headed and carefree, she laughs at his feelings (Chiedi all'aura lusinghiera). The apothecary Dulcamara – a charlatan and phrase-monger – appears (Udite, udite, o rustici). He is selling a magic potion that cures all ills – from wrinkles to diabetes and paralysis. Nemorino rushes up to him and asks if he has Queen Isolde`s potion (L`elisir che desta amore). Delighted that he has found such a fool (Io ne son distillatore), Dulcamara sells Nemorino a bottle of Bordeaux, promising that it will work within twenty-four hours (by which time he himself will be far from the village). Nemorino, beside himself with joy, tries the potion and soon empties the bottle. He believes the potion is beginning to act (Caro elisir!). Confident that Adina will fall in love with him soon, Nemorino acts coolly. The enraged Adina agrees to marry Belcore in six days` time. Nemorino is not at all concerned – after all, the potion will work by tomorrow (Ah! Va ben cosм!). But suddenly Belcore discovers that the next day he must depart for the war. Adina then resolves to arrange the wedding without delay. The desperate Nemorino begs her to wait (Adina credimi). But the farmer`s daughter takes her revenge on the peasant by inviting the entire village to the wedding. Nemorino is destroyed with grief (Dottore! Dottore! Soccorso! ripero!).
The wedding banquet. The guests are drinking, enjoying themselves and singing barcaroles for two voices (La Nina Gondoliera). Adina is annoyed by Nemorino`s absence (Compita non mi par la mia vendetta). All enter the courtyard in order to sign the marriage licence and leave Dulcamara alone at the table. Nemorino appears. His despair has left him on the verge of suicide (Oh me infelice!). Dulcamara advises him to drink a little more of the magic potion. But Nemorino has no money left... He decides to become a soldier to Belcore and buy another bottle of Bordeaux with his salary (Fatti soldato e venti scudi avrai). The village maidens discover that Nemorino`s uncle has died and left him a vast fortune (Immensa ereditа). Now they see Nemorino as incredibly handsome and they begin to flirt with him. “The potion works!” the peasant rejoices, having just finished his second bottle (И questa l`opera del magico liquor). Adina sees Nemorino`s hitherto unknown success with the girls and learns that he has enlisted in the army to win her heart. After all this she could fall in love with him. Dulcamara offers her the magic potion too but Adina turns him down: she believes only her own eyes (In quest`occhi и l`elisir). Nemorino rejoices at seeing Adina`s confusion (Una furtiva lagrima). Adina gives Nemorino back the recruiting statement which she has redeemed from Belcore (Prendi: per me sei libero) and, at last, falls into his embraces (Ti giuro eterno amor). Belcore decides to try his happiness with some other woman (Pieno di donne и il mondo). And Dulcamara`s magic potion, which brings love as well as money, is now selling like hot cakes in the village...
1 Theatre Square
Mariinsky-2 (New Theatre):
34 Dekabristov Street
Mariinsky Concert Hall:
20 Pisareva street