Opera Profile: Donizetti’s Popular Comedy ‘L’Elisir d’Amore’

By David Salazar

Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore,” which the exception of Rossini’s “Barbiere di Siviglia,” might be the most famous opera comedy of all time.

The work, which premiered on May 12, 1832, was written in just six weeks and went on to be a runaway success for the ensuing decade. It was the most performed opera in Italy between 1838-48 and not much has changed since with the opera a fixture of the standard repertoire.

Short Plot Summary

Nemorino, a country bumpkin is in love with Norina. But she’s just out to have fun and rejects his advances. A military group comes to town led by the arrogant Belcore, who takes to Adina and proposes marriage to her.

Another major visitor comes to town, the charlatan Dulcamara, who promises to sell potions to remedy anything that ails anyone. Nemorino inquires about a love potion, a magical elixir that will make anyone fall in love with anyone. Dulcamara cons Nemorino, giving him a bottle of Bordeaux which he calls the “Elixir of Love.” Nemorino gets drunk on the elixir, much to the chagrin of Adina who thinks he is ignoring her. To get back at him, she accepts Belcore’s proposal.

But when the wedding comes around, Adina can’t commit. Nemorino, distraught by Adina’s coming marriage seeks out Dulcamara’s help, but he asks for more money. Desperate for money, Nemorino signs up to join the military.

All the girls in town find out that Nemorino’s rich uncle has died and left him a fortune. So they want a piece of him, which Adina notices. She becomes jealous and Dulcamara believes his Elixir is legitimate. Adina pays to release Nemorino from the military and declares her love for him. Everyone celebrates.

Famous Musical Excerpts

The opera is rife with one hit number after another, the melodies as palpable as they are in any other Italian opera. But none is more famous than “Una furtiva lagrima,” Nemorino’s famous aria in which he relates seeing Adina crying over his rejection of her. He hopes for love in a melody that is easily one of the most famous in opera history.

Watch and Listen

Rolando Villazón is one of the famous interpreters of the role of Nemorino in recent times and his interpretation with Anna Netrebko at the start of their respective careers remains iconic to this day.


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