St. Paul, Minn. —
This weekend, the Metropolitan Opera performs Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore" ("The Elixir of Love").
It's one of opera's evergreen romantic comedies. It tells the story of a sweet, naive country bumpkin, in love with a girl who seems to be way out of his league. An army sergeant and a "doctor" selling quack remedies round out the picture. The story may deal with human foibles such as pride and self-deception, but the moral is delivered with such a gentle touch that you'd hardly know it's there.
Officially, "L'Elisir d'Amore" takes place in the Basque country, though many performances, like the Met's, move it to Donizetti's own locale, Italy of the early 19th century.
But directors have delighted in moving it to other countries, and other eras. One famous production placed it in the Wild West. The hero became a cowboy, the heroine a ranch owner. The baritone was a cavalry officer from the local fort, and the women's chorus, instead of being "peasants," were a troupe of dance-hall girls.
Recently the San Francisco Opera moved it to their own backyard, in the Napa Valley of the early 20th century. In another recent production, they reasoned that anyone selling quack remedies needs to be a showman. Accordingly they dressed Bryn Terfel up in a sort of Elvis/Gary Glitter suit, and turned his big aria into a production number.
Its appeal to audience is foolproof, whether it's presented at the Met or a junior high school auditorium, where my first encounter with the opera took place. The program from that performance has survived, and for a quick summary of the plot, you could hardly do better.