Shy Nemorino risks all to buy an elixir of love (actually wine) from a travelling “doctor” to win the heart of the lovely and rich Adina. But it is only when he becomes mysteriously attractive to all the other women in town that Adina is forced to declare her feelings to Nemorino. The story ends with general rejoicing and praise for the elixir.


Rich, beautiful, and learned Adina is watched by the love-sick Nemorino, who believes that such a woman could never love him. Adina reads aloud the story of Tristan, who, burning with unrequited love, uses an “elixir of love” to win Isolde’s heart. Sergeant Belcore arrives and immediately sets out to woo Adina to the dismay of Nemorino. When Belcore goes off to settle in the town, Adina and Nemorino are left alone. He professes his love for her but she spurns him. In the town square there is great excitement about the arrival of Doctor Dulcamara, who is selling an elixir which he promises will cure anything.

Nemorino, remembering the story of Tristan and the potion, offers all his money for the elixir of love. The doctor sells the potion to Nemorino warning that it will take 24 hours to take effect. Nemorino gloats over the success he will have in the morning and pays no attention to Adina, who, angered by this, agrees to marry Sergeant Belcore in six days’ time. A messenger then brings urgent news for Belcore to leave immediately so Belcore urges Adina to marry him that day. Adina, noting Nemorino’s distress, agrees despite his desperate pleadings.


The second act opens in the midst of a banquet at which Doctor Dulcamara is one of the honoured guests. When everyone leaves for the signing of the marriage contract, Nemorino approaches Dulcamara and desperately pleads for help. The Doctor advises another dose of elixir, and he tells Nemorino to return when he has found more money. Belcore suggests that he get it by enlisting in the army. News passes round the town that Nemorino’s uncle has died and left him all his property, making Nemorino a very rich man. When Nemorino enters, he still does not know about his good fortune; and the girls immediately fawn over him, convincing him of the efficacy of the potion.

When Adina sees him happily surrounded with girls, she is startled and upset: Dulcamara explains the story of the elixir he sold Nemorino. When she returns, she explains to Nemorino that she has bought back his enlistment contract from Belcore so that he will not have to leave town. Nemorino hands back the contact, determined to die a soldier if Adina does not love him. Adina eventually declares her love. They embrace as Belcore enters, followed by Dulcamara and the rest of the townsfolk. Belcore graciously accepts his defeat. The happy lovers bid farewell to Doctor Dulcamara.

René Barbera and Susannah Biller in The Elixir of Love (Opera Theatre of St. Louis, 2014), photo: Ken Howard