Donizetti's elixir of love does not work like most love potions. Usually, the lover administers the potion to the object of his affection in order to make her love him. In this opera, it is Nemorino who swallows the potion to make himself attractive to Adina. He does not know that he has been tricked by Dulcamara who runs the medicine show and the potion is just an ordinary bottle of wine. Here in Birmingham, many men think think that they become irresistible to women after swallowing two pints of Ansell's bitter.
In the UK, we are currently being treated to a television season of these operas from the Met, after years of listening to them on the radio on a Saturday night. Of course, some people prefer opera on the radio. They claim that the pictures are better. This film may be a case in point. The garish costumes and design are straight out of a Disney cartoon. At any moment I expected Uncle Remus to stride onto the stage singing Zip-a-de Doo-Dah. Certainly Luciano Pavarotti, in a most unfortunate costume and wig, does a pretty good impersonation of Br'er Bear. This was probably the point at which many of the world's opera houses decided that Luciano, because of his considerable bulk, was no longer feasible as a juvenile lead. Met audiences had no such reservations and continued to dote on him until well past the millennium.
The petite Kathleen Battle looks lovely but she and Pavarotti make a very odd couple. Battle shows the flighty side of Adina's character but does not suggest any depth. The pivotal moment in this opera is when Nemorino notices a telltale tear (una furtiva lagrima) in Adina's eye and realises that she loves him. Well this Adina sheds no tears; worse still, when Pavaratti waddles on stage carrying a suitcase to sing "Una furtiva lagrima" the audience laughs.
Let me stress that I am discussing this work as a film. Battle's lyric coloratura is small but perfect; Pavarotti, in this performance, is still at the height of his vocal powers. They are ably supported by Enzo Dara as Dulcamara and Juan Pons as Belcore. If I were listening on the radio I would have thought that it was perfect.
The film's director, Brian Large could not do much to rescue this production. Four years later, he directed what is probably the definitive version of this opera with Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna smouldering in the leading roles.
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