Monday, September 17, 2007

"Elixir of Love"

On Sept. 6, PBS memorialized Luciano Pavarotti, who had died earlier that day, by broadcasting a 1981 performance of "L'Elisir D'Amore" ("Elixir of Love") on Great Performances at the Met.

PBS writes:

The two-and-one-half-hour, two-act opera was originally broadcast on PBS
stations from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on March 2,
1981. A highlight of the telecast is Pavarotti's stunning rendition of "Una
Furtiva Lagrima," an aria he made his own in his illustrious career. Charlie
Rose introduces the In Memoriam broadcast.

"L'Elisir D'Amore," a romantic comedy, revolves around the unrequited love of poor villager Nemorino (Pavarotti's role) for wealthy farm owner Adina. Overhearing Adina read to her workers the story of how Tristan made Isolde fall in love with him through the use of a magic potion, Nemorino spends all his money on a similar potion he buys from conman Dulcamara, who is making his way through the area.

Though the audience knows the potion to be merely wine, Nemorino is certain of its powers and begins drinking it. Tipsy from the wine, he pretends not to be interested in Adina, secure in the "knowledge" that she will be his in just one day. Angry at him for ignoring her, Adina agrees to marry obnoxious army sergeant Belcore that night, before he leaves on a military campaign.

Frightened that Adina will marry before the potion kicks in, Nemorino seeks out Dulcamara to see if there is a potion that will work immediately. Dulcamara assures him that, for a price, he has a potion that will make all the girls love Nemorino. Joining the army for the enlistment bonus, Nemorino buys the potion and drinks it.

Unbeknownst to Nemorino, Adina, and Dulcamara, a report goes out that Nemorino's rich uncle has died, leaving him lots of money. Women begin flirting with Nemorino, convincing him all the more of the potion's efficacy.

Adina sees the flirting and is enraged. Dulcamara tries to sell Adina a bottle of the "elixir of love," explaining how it has worked so well for Nemorino. Touched that Nemorino would join the army to win her love, Adina buys his enlistment papers back and announces her love for him. Dulcamara sells a lot more of his elixir and quickly leaves town.

Even though this opera contains no overt religious content, I am interested in it as representative of the implicitly religious nature of all culture. Paul Tillich viewed all cultural artifacts as manifestations of "ultimate concern," that which is the object of one's faith. Works of art that contain less religious form can often contain more religious essence.

What is the ultimate concern of this opera, and in what ways does it communicate trust in this ultimate concern? Is its ultimate concern the importance of romantic love, or the need for comfort that that the universe is alright the way it is, or the nature of simplicity, or the role of the trickster? I think all of these options (and many more possibilities) are ripe for analysis.

As you ponder, enjoy Pavarotti singing "Una Furtiva Lagrima" ("A Furtive Tear"), an aria from "L'Elisir D'Amore" (though not the performance recently on PBS).

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