Melodramma giocoso in two acts (1832)
However, as in Tristan and Isolde, taking the potion does not have the intended effect. When Nemorino meets Adina in a state of drunkenness – the intoxicating effect of the potion owing to its high-proof content – Adina turns away angrily and decides to marry the dashing soldier Belcore. It takes a second bottle of »love potion« and plenty of fortune for Nemorino and Adina to come together. In the end, however, the whole village community is convinced of the elixir’s effect. With the delightful naivety of his characters, Donizetti and his librettist Felice Romani take superstition and credulity for a ride in a lovingly tender manner. The music, which is said to have been written in just three weeks, also allows the protagonists touching, intimate moments, not least in the famous aria »Una furtiva lagrima«. The inexhaustible richness of its melodies makes »L’elisir d’amore« one of Donizetti’s most popular stage works, which now returns to the Staatsoper repertoire after a long break.
The young and naive peasant Nemorino loves Adina, though she has nothing but scorn for him. Adina reads the tale of Tristan and Isolde to the villagers. This gives Nemorino the idea of winning Adina’s love by means of a magic potion.
The sergeant Belcore enters with his soldiers. He pays court to Adina, who is impressed. Nemorino pleads with Adina, but she resists his advances again.
A trumpeter announces the arrival of Dulcamara. This traveling doctor is hawking a remedy for all ills. Nemorino asks him for Isolde’s love potion. Dulcamara presents a bottle of Bordeaux, claiming that it is the very potion, and sells it to him, advising him that it will take effect in 24 hours.
Nemorino hastily drinks the draught. The alcohol and the prospect of success bestow unwonted self-confidence on Nemorino. Adina is annoyed by his uncustomary high spirits and out of spite she gives her consent to Belcore’s suit.
News is brought of the imminent departure of the troops. As a result, the wedding is scheduled for the evening. Nemorino is desperate because the potion will not have time to take effect. He begs Adina to put the wedding off. His peculiar behaviour only incites her to make fun of him even more.
The pre-nuptial feast is in progress. Belcore insists that the marriage contract should be signed and the marriage consummated. Adina, however, wants Nemorino to be present before she signs.
Nemorino begs Dulcamara for help. He recommends buying another bottle of the so-called love potion, but Nemorino does not have enough money. In desperation he allows Belcore to enlist him as a soldier. With the recruitment pay he buys a second bottle of Bordeaux from Dulcamara.
Giannetta and the village girls discover that Nemorino has been bequeathed a fortune, although he is not yet aware of this himself. He notices that women are suddenly attracted to him in great numbers – the love potion must be working!
Dulcamara and Adina see Nemorino amid a throng of girls. Adina is seized by jealousy, and realises that in fact she loves Nemorino. Dulcamara tells her about the love potion and suggests she buy a bottle herself. Adina feels she can trust to her own charms and has no need of magic potions. A tear in Adina’s eye reveals to Nemorino that at last his love is requited.
Adina has bought back his enlistment papers from Belcore, but still does not want to own up to her feelings for Nemorino. Only when Nemorino threatens to enlist nevertheless does Adina confess her love for him.
Belcore and the soldiers depart. Thanks to Nemorino’s success with Adina, Dulcamara is doing the briskest trade of his life with his elixir of love.