Gaetano Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore was subjected to a series of substantial modifications after its premiere in 1832. In this article I focus on the performing tradition of the opera in Vienna. The history of these performances and their reception allow us to examine the dynamics through which the revisions to the score became a standard local practice and to assess historiographical assumptions about the role of Italian opera in nineteenth-century Viennese musical life.
The shape Elisir took in the city was the result of interactions between the first interpreter of the leading female role in Vienna, soprano Eugenia Tadolini, impresarios, local music publishers, spectators, and critics. Surviving evidence shows that Tadolini's performative choices became normative in Vienna. Vocal embellishments that she added to Adina's second-act aria, published soon after the opera's premiere in Vienna, survive in performing materials still used at the beginning of the twentieth century. She also substituted the second-act finale of the opera with a virtuosic waltz by Luigi Ricci. This second modification was a telling instance of Tadolini's attention to the reaction of the Viennese to Donizetti's work. By claiming the right to close the opera with an aria of her choice, Tadolini got rid of an unappreciated piece and reinforced the local reception of Elisir as an opera centered on the prima donna.
As the development of a Viennese performing tradition of the opera extended beyond the Italian seasons at the Kärtnterthortheater, involving individuals and communities of spectators of diverse national origins, the work functioned as a catalyst for the merging of musical experiences from different parts of the Austrian Empire. As Donizetti himself decided to conceive his own waltzing cabaletta for Tadolini in 1842, I ultimately suggest that this case study recalibrates our understanding of the relationship between authorial intentions and local performing traditions.
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