Thursday, March 29, 2012

L'Elisir , A Comedy of Magic and Money

The amorous farce is one of the oldest forms of drama. Despite it's endless settings and from restoration comedy to Britten's Albert Herring, whatever age or class or mismatch sets it in motion certain themes hold. There is a hopeful lover (usually hapless) a stubborn woman either distant or indifferent; obstacles follow,then a comic confusion and finally triumph over whatever pitfalls or plots try to thwart the course of true love. Gaetano Donizetti's genius was to find a musical variant that used and transcended all these expectations.The result was the comic masterwork, L'Elisir d' amore
There is a small town beauty, Adina, very self possessed and seemingly indifferent to the innocent and heartfelt pleas of Nemorino, a young farmer living with a rich relative and his confusion and frustration over her apparent indifference. What then follows are a series of perfectly paced musical numbers that have charmed the world since its' premiere almost 200 years ago. The real magic of L'Elisir is the way that the music and action turn this drama from simple farce to moving human comedy. Feelings and psychology, as in Mozart, take us beneath the surface of feelings and turn these two and the people they encounter into living people who we care for through what they sing. 
Beginning with Adina's haughty Chiedi all'aura lusinghiera, "Ask the flattering breeze" (a hymn to her knowing indifference), through Nemorino heartrending, Adina Credimi (his desperate need for her), "Believe me Adina,I implore you " and the the aria that helped establish Caruso's world renown, the show stopper, Una furtiva lagima :                 
                               A furtive tear 
                                  Welled up in her eye ...

                                      She loves me , yes , she loves me
                                           I ask nothing more
                                                I could die of love
The tears welling in her eyes is our seeing the iceberg melt under the warm sun of his sincerity and good humored and unselfish persistence. In between we meet a quack who swears he has the answer to Nemorino's shyness and fear, a potion, the Elixer. Which is really watered down wine. A rival, a soldier, who is all boldness and presumption, how could she resist him and a wonderful comic reversal. The death of the rich relative and all the girls now finding the heir the man of their dreams, which he is certain must be the elixir! Now it is Adina who must confront her true feelings of jealousy and the impossibility of marrying anyone else. This self knowledge closes the circle of their affections and gives the 'happy ending' a depth that surprises and moves.
Tune in this Saturday at noon for the Met's production of Donizetti's very humane and lyrically inspired comedy, L'Elisir d'amore, here on KPAC and KTXI.  
by Ron Moore

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