7 December 2012

A Night at the Opera

L'Elisir D'Amore

Gaetano Donizetti (1797 - 1848), a contemporary of Schubert, wrote some 73 operas and composed 'L'Elisir d'Amore' in 1832, a melodramma giocoso which would have pleased the Italian crowds of his native Bergamo, and which has hardly been out of repertoire ever since.

I have come to Covent Garden, to the Royal Opera House, to be entertained, and have with me a (small) bag of woes.  Life has the tendency to play tricks, tripping us up when least we need it, and this weekend has not been exceptional.  What I need is some kind of escapismo, a little touch of sunshine in this discontented winter.  And I am determined to get my money's worth.  I have a £12 ticket (such indulgence!) to the Amphitheatre Lower Slips Right, seat A106, and I am assured of a restricted view - so what's new?  My view on life has been restricted by circumstances all my days.

Anyway, whether I have a four figure seat or one in the gods, we can all use the same toilets (to put it bluntly) and the music is what I have come for. 

Although Donizetti was no Wagner, this story is based on the same premise as Tristan and Isolde, but set in sunny Italy.  The curtain rises on a pile of hay bales, with the enchanting Adina in relaxed mode.  Cutting a short story down to the minimum, she is loved by a young fellow (Nemorino - the nameless one) but he doesn't cut the mustard.  Along comes a recruiting officer (Belcore - Mr Goodheart) who shakes his uniform at Adina.  Then enter the charlatan (Dottore Dulcamara - Doctor Sweet and Sour) who claims to be able to cure all ills with his patent medicine....  What happens is that they all get confused and then with a few sips of wine it all comes right and Adina and Nemorino live happily ever after.  What could be better?  With constant movement of dogs, motorini, tractors, lorries, dancing, sunshine and wine, the opera zips along on a high wire. 

It's not tense; it's not dramatic; it is not bleak.  The coldest moment is in the interval when I take a glass of wine and overlook the Christmas decorations of the Covent Garden far below in the open air.  The show is perhaps not great art (though who am I to judge....?) but it is absolute escapism.  A delight for the eyes and ears.  The saddest moment is when Nemorino sings Una furtiva lagrima, one of the most affecting arias written for the bel canto tenor, and there is hardly a dry eye in the house - are we all so subsumed by the magical suspension of reality or have we had too much of the elixir of love in the interval?

The whole evening is bewitching.  From the transformed floral hall to the neo-classical grand facade, from the glassed-in viewpoint high above the champagne bar, to the chilly vista over central London, from the jocular fire curtain to the charm of the people seated aside me, I cannot believe my luck.  I am in heaven and  at the end I cannot seem to find my bag of woes.....
Una furtiva lagrima
negli occhi suoi spuntò:
Quelle festose giovani
invidiar sembrò.
Che più cercando io vo?
Che più cercando io vo?

M'ama! Sì, m'ama, lo vedo. Lo vedo.
Un solo instante i palpiti
del suo bel cor sentir!
I miei sospir, confondere
per poco a' suoi sospir!
I palpiti, i palpiti sentir,
confondere i miei coi suoi sospir...
Cielo! Si può morir!
Di più non chiedo, non chiedo.
Ah, cielo! Si può! Si, può morir!
Di più non chiedo, non chiedo.
Si può morire! Si può morir d'amor.

On my way home, standing on the tube, a young man gestures to offer me his seat.  I am for a moment dumbfounded, never having faced this perplexing accusation of age before.  For a moment I had been thinking how lovely Aleksandra Kurzak had been, dancing lightly, singing, smiling, (not at all unlike my little wife in some ways), even thinking of days in Italy when coloratura was the norm....  And then this boy offers me a seat....

I smile in what I hope is a gracious senior declination of gratitude, and my heart bleeds a furtive tear.  I love the world.  I love the kindness of strangers.  I could die of love.....

Pass the elixir!  Keep it flowing!

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