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Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Why is Donizetti's Dr Dulcamara so successful at selling ? Buffo but not a buffoon Opera's master of human motivation

One of the better known salesmen from the world of Opera will be once again doing the rounds this year in opera houses across the world.
 From a quick search on Google, we can track down Donizetti’s Dr Dulcamara in 'L'eslir d'amore  in Philadelphia USA, at the Vienna Staatoper , in London and rural Leicestershire in the UK and even down-under in Western Australia.

 ( No doubt other productions are also available during 2016)


Gaetano Donizetti’s comic Opera’s stereotypical ‘snake oil’ salesman is actually selling ordinary wine. 

Yet this Buffo role requires the singer to be a believable seller to the characters on stage even if we , in the audience can see through his ‘pitch’ .

He is the larger than life itinerant salesman character.

Yet he has much to teach us - even if at first we laugh at his sales spiel at work on the stage from the comfort of our seats.


Dulcamara's character itself was based on an earlier opera character Doctor Fontanarose a charlatán, vendedor ambulante de medicinas  from Eugène Scribe's libretto of  French composer Daniel Auber’s Opera "Le philtre "(the potion)  which opened a year before Donizetti's opera. Donizetti wrote his masterpiece in six weeks

Watching the opera we are made to feel safe and superior onlookers to Dulcamara's skills in sales and marketing. 

As onlookers from the auditorium we look down on those foolish villagers in the Basque village as they are drawn in to Dulcamara's sales pitch . 

Our self satisfied superiority is re-enforced by the leading soprano character Adina a wealthy landowner who does not realise or admit that she loves her hapless and besotted lover Nemorino ( tenor solo). She also has little time for Dr Dulcamara and like us not so gullible.

Yet why is this travelling medicine salesman so persuasive? 

 OK we find out the elixir is just cheap Bordeaux but why is everyone taken in ?

Well both he or more truthfully Donizetti, I believe, have much to teach us about human nature and the craft of selling. We maybe be laughing at the credulous villagers but I feel Donizetti is laughing at us through Dr Dulcamara.

 We can all be taken in. We are humans and we are gullible. We are often more emotionally driven than rationally driven.


To opera lovers the character of Dr Dulcamara can be conventionally  pigeon holed as a lovable rogue, a cad and a swindler.  

Dulcarama is prepared with a host of great tunes and the "gift of the gab", which make him irresistible to us.

On the surface we might just think that his arrival is simply to roll up and make a fast back

Dulcamara's arrival is heralded by a trumpet fanfare. (Perhaps we can hear resonances of Donald Trump's rolling show to be the Republicans' candidate for the next president. )

There are lots of 10 minute You tube clips you can download but before you watch  and enjoy it sung , why not take a look at the English translation and see how the  presentation skills of sales and marketing are deftly conveyed albeit from a comedic perspective.

His aria is a patter song but within  let's examine the text and take a closer  look . I have added in brackets some of his skills which we may still recognise today.

NB I don't for one minute suggest we copy Dr Dulcamara's  lack of ethics and lawbreaking but just take a look at his communication  technique.



" Listen, listen, o villagers    
Don’t breathe a word of this to anyone.                            

Asking folk to keep a secret- special knowledge
 especially for you. Ahead of the market 

I already suppose and imagine   
Heralding your arrival has always been part
 of Marketing profession Such as these Circus Posters

 (The importance of an attention getter -The trumpet heralding his arrival has done its work presaging the main act )

That  you know as well as I
That I am that grand,
 ( But just in case, this who I am ! Repeating your name to your clients is helpful)
Encyclopaedic doctor
Called Dulcamara,


Whose illustrious virtue                                                       
And infinite wonders
Are known in all the world...and in other places.            
  ( Assure them as a trusted adviser, a partner . Telling is not selling. Develop a relationship)

Benefactor of mankind,                                                      
(This is what I do - an elevator pitch benefit shared)
Curer of ills,
In a little while I will have cleared out                             
  (These are the problems I solve)
And swept away the hospitals,                                          

  (There's one hell of a claim to catch their attention.  Would this get Health secretary Jeremy Hunt's attention today I wonder  ! :) )

Selling health
And travelling the world over.
Buy it, buy it,                                                                       

( "Roll up, Roll up" Gather round)


I’ll give it to you for a small price.                                  

  ( The Value. The Cost  .A bargain)
( How about this for a list of  sales benefits!)

It’s this toothache medicine                                                 
Marvellous liquor,                                                              

(Colgate Palmolive must be quaking in their                                                                                              boots  !)

The mighty destroyer                                                            

(  A Vermin eradicator the Pest Control Industry must be worried !)
Of mice and bugs,

Whose certificates,                                                                
authentic and labelled,       
(Verbal proof, testimonies , third part  reference  all to COSH standards ISO etc -probably not )
(Deft use of samples and sales aids/literature)

I will allow each of you         
To touch, see and read.
This is my speciality,
A lovely wonder.

('White paper' case study - proof of claim)

A man, in his seventies                                                        
And sickly,
Yet became
The grandfather of ten babes.
Well, ten to twenty babes
he had,
Because of this touch and health
In a brief week
It did more than cease
His crying affliction.


O all of you, stiff matrons,                               
( The Power of Questions to attract attention
Pushing the hot button of your prospects)
Do you yearn to be rejuvenated?

(It's an anti wrinkle cream as well)

Your inconvenient wrinkles                                               
Will be erased with this.

Do you want, damsels,                                                       
 (it's a moisturiser and skin care treatment  'because you are worth it' - Oreal)
To have smooth skin?

You, young gallant men,                                                    
( It's an aphrodisiac , sex sells etc.)
To always have lovers?
Buy my speciality,
I’ll give it to you for a small price                                  


  ( Although a speciality product - a good price)


   (Whatever it is the global  Pharma companies                                                                  must be very worried.  Just take a look all these  clinical  solutions :) )
It moves the paralytics,                                                     
despatches apoplectics,
asthmatics,
 asphyxiation,
Hysteria, 
diabetes,
It cures tympanitis
And tuberculosis and rickets,
And even liver trouble,
Which used to be fashionable.                                          

(Talk about "a one stop shop "! )
Buy my speciality,
I’ll give it to you for a small price.
I brought it by post
From a thousand miles away
You ask me: How much is it?
How much is that bottle worth?
100 scudi?... 30?... 20?


No...nobody shall be dismayed.
To prove to you my gladness
That I am accepted as a friend,   
(Relationship management writ large and  laid on thick ! )
I want from you, O good people,
To give 1 scudo.                                                              


  (A BARGAIN    )           
Here it is: stupendous,
Truly balsamic elixir
All of Europe knows that I sell                                       
 ( Internationally accepted , track record)
Nothing under 10 lire:            
( Tracker Benchmark positioning and  pricing)
But since it is also clear
That I was born in this country,     
(Loyalty , sentiment and nationality sells )
I’ll give it to you for 3 lire,
I ask only 3 lire:
It is as clear as the sun,                                                  
(Persuasive word picture)
That to everyone who wants it,
1 scudo, nice and neat
I’ll put in my pocket.
Ah! The sweet affection of home
Can do great miracles.

For all our cynicism we are swept up both by the fabulous music, the skill of the Baritone Singer spitting out the words like a machine gun.

As in Chaucer’s Cook’s tale  from the Monk’s story   "Ful ofte in game a sooth I have herd saye!". (Many a true word is said in jest)  Similarly there is truth to be found in Dr Dulcamara's  famous aria in what ever language it is sung.


Related Links


Dr Dulcamara can be found singing (and selling) around the world this 2016


Nevill Holt Opera 2016 summer season on June 25 at St Jude's Hampstead , London

http://www.lakesidearts.org.uk/special-events/event/3118/nevill-holt-opera-the-elixir-of-

Wiener Staatsoper 10.06.2016 - 13.06.2016

http://www.viennaticketoffice.com/the-elixir-of-love-tickets-13-en.html


Opera Philadelpia  April 29 May1, 4, 6 and 8  at Academy of Music Broad and Locust Streets, Philadelphia, PA 

https://www.operaphila.org/whats-on/on-stage-2015-2016/the-elixir-of-love/


Western Australia Opera  His Majesty's Theatre 14, 16, 19, 21, 23 July


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