Sunday, February 14, 2021

"Donald and the Elixir of Love"

Happy Valentine's Day!  And today, we have a rare seasonally-appropriate entry.  I'm excited about this one; I'd been wanting to get to it for some time, and when I realized the holiday was coming up, it seemed the perfect opportunity.

So as some of you already know, over the past few years I've become a huge opera fan--and classical music in general, but opera in particular.  I can't get enough of it.  Are there Disney comics based on operas?  OF COURSE there are!  I actually wrote about one years ago, but that was before I knew anything about the form--I definitely had not seen the Ring operas at the time.  But here's another!  

Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore is definitely one of the most delightful operatic comedies around, and would probably be a good first opera for someone trying to get into the form.  And the Disney version represents such a perfect convergence of my interests that I couldn't not write about it.  It's a rather obscure story, rarely reprinted even in Italy, and the creators aren't exactly top-tier--neither has ever been published in the US (or featured on this blog).  That does not dim my interest, however!  I think I can guarantee you that this is the most anyone has ever written about this story in English, and very likely in any language.  Breaking new ground!


Of course, the plot is at most half the story for an opera, so a plot summary is only going to get you so far, but I should probably provide at least a brief overview, in the unlikely event that anyone here is unfamiliar.  So there's this poor villager, Nemorino, who's in love with Adina, a rich landowner.  She kind of likes him, but she prefers to flit here and there among lovers, and is annoyed by his persistent mooning over her.  So when a troupe of soldiers led by the pompous womanizer Belcore comes to bivouac in the village, she lets him court her and agrees to marry him (not intending to follow through) to make Nemorino jealous.  But then: a quack doctor named Dulcamara arrives in the village to sell extremely dubious cure-alls to the villagers.  Impressed by his patter and inspired by a book Adina had been reading about Tristan and Isolde, Nemorino asks if he can sell him a potion to make Adina love him.  Always eager to make a buck, Dulcamara sells him a bottle of cheap wine which he represents as a love potion, telling him that it takes a day to take effect so that he'll be far away before the deception become apparent.  Long story short, there are some hijinx, Nemorino and Adina get together, and because of his inadvertent role in the affair, Dulcamara ultimately comes across as kind of roguishly lovable in spite of everything.

So how will the Disney comic handle that?  Well, it does kind of seem like a natural: Donald, Daisy, and Gladstone are perfect analogues for Nemorino, Adina, and Belcore, and get this: Nemorino, no joke, has a rich uncle (who never appears onstage, however)!  Who plays Dulcamara here?  That's less clear.  There's not really any Disney character who seems an obvious stand-in.  We will see how the story plays it.

Funny thing about that title: in French, it's "Donald et L'Elixir D'Amour," exactly as you'd expect.  But the original Italian title is..."Paperino e l'elisir miracoloso."  What are you doing?  It's an Italian opera!  Use the Italian title!  This just makes it look like you're trying to skirt copyright law or something.  I would understand if the title was some sort of wordplay based on the original, but this is just weird.

In looking at this story, it's important that I not just judge it against the opera and treat divergences therefrom a marks against it.  It has to live or die on its own.  Still, I think it's interesting to note places where the two versions clash, and here's one.  This is not, to be clear, a mean-spirited story, all told.  I should HOPE not.  But, at least at the beginning, Daisy (the story uses the duck-names for all the characters but Dulcamara) seems...meaner than Adina.  Meana than Adiner.  She'll soften later on, but eh, I'm not a huge fan.

And there's also this: it's very clear in the opera that, in spite of flirting with Belcore, she's not really taking him seriously.  But here she seems to be genuinely charmed by him, in a way that's clearly more influenced by mildly sexist portrayals of Daisy as flighty and easily swayed than it is the source material.  Personally, I would have worked on that a bit.  It's not my favorite thing.

Gatti's art, while mostly serviceable, has some issues, the biggest one being that some of the characters, notably Gladstone here, look weirdly childish, like they're little kids playing at being adults.

Look, I translated all these panels, so even if I don't have that much to say about them, I shall include them.  This dance contest and wheelbarrow race (what?) are both embellishments of the comic.  It may have been felt that talk of characters getting married was a bit much--fair enough--and anyway, it will prove relevant later.

Okay.  See, that "you're good, you're kind" line is paraphrased from the opera...but the context is completely different.  Because there, it's being said sincerely, but here's it's more like a dismissive "yeah, sure, you're awesome, whatever."  Again: it makes her seem meaner.  Of course, the second part of her line is true: Donald doesn't have the "right" to be with her, and if you want to make a feminist critique here, fine, do that.  I'm perfectly aware that in strictly realistic terms, the opera's view of gender relations could be seen as problematic (though if you let that prevent you from enjoying it, I just don't even know).  But...that's not a thing that this story is doing.  So I just think it's kind of bad writing--though I could also note that the problem here may be more in the art than it is in the writing.  Do Italian collaborations work the same as Western ones did, where the artist and writer aren't even in contact?  No idea. 

Anyway, now the moment you have all been waiting for...

DULCAMARA!  Played by...well, Ludwig, but it took me a while to even realize that.  Because if Gatti's depictions of Gladstone seem a little off, good lord, what's THIS?  He seriously looks like he's playing dress-up in his father's clothes.  

Under the circumstances, Ludwig is clearly the right guy for the part, even if he doesn't have the character's unsavory aspects.  But...man alive.  Also, the French text calls him "Doux-Aimer," which...well, without knowing any Italian, I can see how that would work.  Is that really what his name is supposed to be?  I mean, maybe, but why?  I never stopped to think about that.  It's interesting, anyway.

Just putting this here because Dulcamara's dialogue is a very close paraphrase of the character's actual patter song in the opera, which I appreciate.  Seriously, man, the opera is SO GOOD.  If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor.  I recommend this very good production with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón.

This is a really good way to merge the opera and the Disney comic, I think.  In the former, the rich uncle is nothing more than a plot device.  We never see him and learn nothing about him.  But obviously, when you're talkin' Donald, the "rich uncle" thing is going to be irresistible, and I think it's effectively integrated into the story.

Note that Donald doesn't appear to exactly be looking for a love potion, per se, but rather something to make him more attractive so that, hopefully, he'll be more desirable (though I don't think attraction is that rational).  Dalmasso appears to be trying to rationalize the fact that in the opera, there's really no indication of how it's supposed to work, per se--it's magic!  

Uh...here's another bit that I translated, so I'm going to put here.  In the original, Dulcamara doesn't try to charge an exorbitant fee, but here he can, so does.

Bit of a bummer that the elixir is just "colored water" rather than alcohol.  Nemorino getting progressively drunker can be very funny in the original.  I'm SURE I've seen Italian Disney comics featuring alcohol use, though nothing obvious comes immediately to mind.

Oh hey, here's Giannetta (named "Amelia" here for some reason), who interestingly appears to have an original character design (I suppose Clara could have played her, if desired)   She's the fifth role and by far smallest role in the opera.  Probably mostly sung by a soprano trying to establish her career and dreaming of the day she can sing Adina.  A summary of the opera probably wouldn't even mention her, but I like that she puts in an appearance.  The idea in the opera is that Nemorino's uncle has died, leaving him his fortune, but you can see how that wouldn't quite fly here.  As you can see, in this version they're just learning that he is his uncle.

So the idea is that Donald is feeling confident because, knowing that he has a rich uncle, all the girls are hitting on him.  In the original, there's no real confrontation between Nemorino and Belcore (the latter, when he sees that he's lost, is just like, whatevz, more fish in the sea), but when you convert it to Disney, it's probably the expected thing.

This is a weakness of the story, I'd say.  In the opera, Adina sort of comes around on him when she sees the other girls all into him, and also because he'd cared enough to join the army (to get a signing bonus because he thought he needed to buy more elixir).  Whereas here, we see absolutely no indication of why she's suddenly into him aside from the fact that Gladstone threatens him in what she sees as an unchivalrous way (though Donald tricking and kicking him doesn't seem all that great either).  

And now, the WHEELBARROW RACE!  Definitely the comic's strangest embellishment.  The what now?  Attentive readers may expect the amount of the prize money to be significant, however.

Well, they win the race.  It's not a very interesting sequence; I'm not hiding anything great from you.

Inevitable Scrooge appearance.  It was nice of him to be willing to pay the money at all, anyway.



This is actually an echo of the original story, in which Adina buys back Nemorino's army contract so he won't have to go (the money is also irrelevant there, as she's already rich).  

Anyway, they go off to, hopefully, live happily ever after.

...and the story ends here, rather limply.  Not much to say.

But actually, as literary adaptations go, this is pretty good!  Certainly better than many a Guido Martina joint.  The way Scrooge is integrated into the story is surprisingly deft.  Not an all-time classic, but still a worthwhile piece of work that you may wish to acquaint yourself with, given the opportunity (I briefly considered translating the whole thing, but I really don't like this color/b&w alternating pages thing.  Seriously, if you're going to do that, alternate BETWEEN stories, not within them).

So now, for symmetry's sake, I should probably see an opera based on a Disney comic, eh?  Well, the closest I've come is Philip Glass' Perfect American, which is about Walt Disney.  Not that close, but probably closer than you would have expected!  It's pretty good, too, even if it paints him in an excessively (though not wholly) negative light.  Recommended.

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10 Comments:

Anonymous Elaine said...

You have the same set of panels posted twice; probably you meant to post two different sets?

I think it's partly the size of Gladstone's eyes which gives him that childish look. I do like Ludwig as Dulcamara, and yes, the integration of Scrooge is very deftly done.

In the first panel of the excerpt under "it's magic!", who is saying the dialogue in the first balloon? ("See? He's waking up!") The wall?

There may not be an opera based on a Disney comic, but I personally have in my possession the unfinished script of an *operetta* (à la Gilbert & Sullivan) based on the Ducks, H.M.S. Pinfeather by Donald D. Markstein.

"My net worth multiplied a thousandfold
When I went to Alaska for some Klondike gold!
I toiled and saved and did without--
And unlike other miners, took a fortune out!

I passed by honkytonks and nursed each buck,
And now I am the universe's richest duck!"


February 14, 2021 at 2:08 PM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. said...

Fixt! Thanks. And you're quite right about that "he's waking up" panel. It was like that in the French. Clearly a mistake on someone's part. I might have changed it to something that made more sense if I had been trying to translate the whole story, but since I was just commenting on it, I left it as-is.

February 14, 2021 at 2:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't read the Italian original, so I can't say for sure what it said, but foreign translators censoring out any references to alcohol in them is EXTREMELY common, so I'd wager "colored water" is just French censorship and that the original Italian did indeed say wine.

February 14, 2021 at 2:55 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Tristan and Isolde SUCKS as a love story I tell you that much - At least Romeo and Juliet as much problematic that one is had the character feel in love base on one meeting... Here it's all love potion base! Even a love potion handle by a innocent child. Yeah, I did the description that the pootion made their hearts entangled with thorn vines but it's not that romantic if the reason behind their feeling is pretty much brain-washed based... I don't care if you can argue that the potion is symbolic! It's just sucks out any real love from the story...

Anyway happy to see new reviews on your blog! :) Hope for ore soon :)

P.S.
I know there is an Opera base on "Adventures of Tintin"... I think it was base on the "Seven Cristal Balls"/"Temple of The Sun" story-line.

February 14, 2021 at 7:13 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Ah, sorry. For whatever reason (so odd) I mist the "DISNEY" Part when you wrote "Opera base on DISNEY comic" and I was just thinking of a comic-base Opera in general. My bad...

February 14, 2021 at 7:17 PM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. said...

You say that, but I'm not sure it's possible to watch the Wagner opera and maintain that there's nothing there.

I do find it funny, however, that Adina's like "Tristan was sad because Isolde wasn't into him, but then he got the love potion and everything was super great forever!" I feel like maybe she should've finished the book before opining like that.

February 14, 2021 at 8:51 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Crap! I ment of coruse "I did LIKE the description that the pootion made their hearts entangled with thorn vines"

but my stupid compute swallow "like" part...

Damn it...

February 14, 2021 at 9:20 PM  
Blogger Jeffyo said...

I would pay fantasticatillions to see a completed HMS PINFEATHER -- especially if it was staged in Dawson City. (If only I had fantasticatillions...)

February 17, 2021 at 9:33 AM  
Blogger Speculative Spectrus said...

I think Gatti's better panels were copied from Carpi or Rota... but I don't really mind his art. Interesting story, I shall request it for a German publication.

Guido Martina did a lot of opera parodies, some pretty short and silly! And Aida was not only done by him but also by Byron Erickson & Flemming Andersen. Both stories have quite a bit in common.

"I'm SURE I've seen Italian Disney comics featuring alcohol use, though nothing obvious comes immediately to mind."

Atomino gets thrown out of whack by being offered the champagne that Einmug and Ellsworth are savouring...

February 18, 2021 at 6:04 PM  
Blogger Thomas said...

Dulcamara (lit. "bittersweet") is a plant in the nightshade family. It has some use as a medicine and likely belonged to the repertoire of quack-salvers like Dulcamara.

Amelia is the Italian name for Magica De Spell. Presumably this is her in the role of Giannetta.

This book alternates color and b&w between pages because only one side of every sheet of paper is printed in color. The sheets are then folded into sections and cut, which produces this effect. This used to be a very common way of printing for comics and magazines!

February 26, 2021 at 6:12 AM  

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