Written in haste in a six-week period, L’elisir d’amore was the most often performed opera in Italy between 1838 and 1848 and it has remained continually in the international opera repertory. Today it is one of the most frequently performed of all Donizetti’s operas: it appears as number 13 on the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide in the five seasons between 2008 and 2013. There are a large number of recordings. It contains the popular tenor aria “Una furtiva lagrima,” a romanza that has a considerable performance history in the concert hall.
Donizetti insisted on a number of changes from the original Scribe libretto. The most well known of these was the insertion of “Una furtiva lagrima” and the duet between Adina and Nemorino in the first act, “Chiedi all’aura lusinghiera”. The melody to the duet “Io son ricco e tu sei bella” in Act 2, Scene 1 recurs in the final scene of the opera sung by Dulcamara as a solo aria with new scabrous lyrics.
In general, under Donizetti’s hands, the subject became more romantic than in the Auber version: L’elisir d’amore features three big duets between the tenor and soprano. There is also personal history in this opera. Donizetti’s military service was bought by a rich woman, so that, unlike his brother Giuseppe (also a well known composer) he did not have to serve in the Austrian army.