Elixir of Love (L’elisir d’amore) is a comic opera (melodramma giocoso) in two acts by the Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti. The opera premiered on May 12th, 1832 at the Teatro della Canobbiana in Milan and has continued to be one of the most-performed operas (ranks 13th according to Operabase). One of the main threads of the story is the unwavering effort by Nemorino, a poor peasant, to woo Adina, a beautiful landowner.
The Portland Opera production promises a romantic story, laced together lovingly by the incredibly evocative music of Donizetti. The production’s non-traditional setting of the American Wild West heightens the awareness of the opera’s already powerful sense of nostalgia for a vanished time.
The post-performance question and answer sessions organized by General Director Christopher Mattaliano greatly enrich the audience’s experience. The discussion is always lively with probing questions from the audience.
Mr. Mattaliano has deep roots in Italian culture, with paternal grandparents who immigrated to the USA from San Giovanni Gemini, Sicily and maternal grandparents who are from Potenza, Italy. He has been gracious enough to provide some of his insightful comments on the current production.
Q: Why do you think Italian is called the most musical of the romantic languages, and what do you want Italian-speaking people in Portland to know about this opera?
Mr. Mattaliano: Italian is an incredibly expressive language and is innately connected to the Italian soul, its spirit. Then there is the fact that The Elixir of Love is an Italian opera from the romantic period. So we have this incredible period in history, and we have the most lyrical and songful music.
Q: Talk a little about Donizetti and bel canto opera.
Mr. Mattaliano: We’ve got four great composers from the bel canto era. They all exist in the same universe, but each is unique in his own way. Rossini’s Barber of Seville has energy, sparkle, brilliance. We love it because it’s high voltage. And there’s Bellini’s music…. It’s just the most Godlike unearthly beauty. Then Verdi comes along and uses what they composed, but takes it in a profoundly different direction. Donizetti has a little of all three – brilliance, but tenderness. The Elixir of Love is fairly comic opera buffa, but it becomes warmer as the opera progresses. The comic aria when Dr. Dulcamara enters has incredible timing and brilliance. Then your heart breaks for Nemorino.”
Certainly, the emotion of this opera progresses all the way through until the second act, with a distinct tug at the heart as Nemorino sings the beautiful aria “Una Furtiva Lagrima”.
Opera goers reap the full benefit of this incredible Italian opera tradition every time they see an opera production like Elixir of Love by the Portland Opera.