NEW YORK—The Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Gaetano Donizetti’s opera “l’Elisir d’Amore” fittingly begins with a story within the story. Farm owner Adina—yes they had an empowered business woman in the 19th century—reads some friends the old tale of the Cornish knight Tristan and the Irish princess Isolade.
The tale goes that Tristan and Isolade drink a magic potion and fall madly in love. Now, we find ourselves in Italy, the year is 1836. The young, financially troubled villager Nemorino runs into Dr. Dulcamara, who offers him an elixir of love—hence the opera’s title. Nemorino hatches a plan to drink the elixir and make Adina fall in love with him.
In truth, the potion that Nemorino buys from Dr. Dulcamara is nothing more than a bottle of Bordeaux—or is it? The plot thickens with a dose of mixed signals. Adina turns her affections to another man, Sergeant Belcore, more out of spite than love. Ultimately though, this is a romantic comedy, not a romantic tragedy, so you don’t have to worry too much about the outcome of the twisting plot.
That’s the story at the surface anyway. In an interview released by the Metropolitan Opera, the opera’s director Bartlett Sher said there is more going on than at first seems.
“It’s kind two operas at the same time, as an opera it seems like great entertainment and as opera it seems there is something else happening underneath it,” said Sher.
The opera was first performed in the 1830s amidst a social and political period in Italy known as the Risorgimento, or Resurgence. At the time, Italy was split into various city states, among them the Sicilies, the Papal States, Lombardy, Sardinia, and Tuscany. It was a time when Italy was unifying to create one coherent entity in the face of superpowers at the time like Austria and France.
“Donizetti is like the classic Italian nationalist and he makes a voice for his country,” Sher said.
The elixir of love is the perfect metaphor as well.
“The people are longing for change, they drink it and they are changed,” said Sher, whose previous productions include “Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” “Le Comte Ory,” and “Les Contes d’Hoffmann.”
Sher wanted to get at this story behind the story and thus tried to capture with historical accuracy the original set design of Donizetti’s production and he sets his production right in Donizetti’s 1830s Italy.
Opera superstar, Russian Anna Netrebko, plays Adina and accomplished American tenor Matthew Polenzani stars as Nemorino. This season, “l’Elisir d’Amore” runs Sept. 24-Oct. 13, followed by a second season from Jan. 30–Feb. 9.
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