art, opera, unrequited love

Una Furtiva Lagrima – the essence of unrequited love

L’elisir d’amore (Elixir of Love) is a popular opera by Gaetano Donizetti about unrequited love, and Una Furtiva Lagrima (One Furtive Tear) is by far its most well-known aria. This is one of the most performed arias of all times.

In the olden days the theme of unrequited love was always among the favourites in the works of art – a dear of poets, musicians and artists. In contemporary works it has no more than a faint presence, which is a shame, since it plays a prominent role as far as the human condition is concerned.

Unrequited love is one of the worst experiences you can have in life. There are plenty of those who will say experience is experience and it’s valuable for that, it makes you grow emotionally, it makes you who you are… Err… I can assure you that none of those who would say such a thing actually has proper experience of the matter. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? On rare occasions. Most of the time it scars you for life. Unrequited love is a nasty thing. It dwarfs you. It dehumanises you. You feel very small. You depend on someone’s mercy, but mercy is one thing you almost never get.

The main problem here is that people are mostly selfish. They are concerned only with their own hurts, and indifferent and even cruel when it comes to the hurts of others. Yes, no one is obliged to love. But in the olden days they probably had a better understanding of the fact that we all have responsibility to fellow human beings at the human level. In this respect sensitivity to the matters of heart becomes an obligation, even where feelings are absent. You are not obliged to love, but you have to be kind. Where an outright rejection can cause sufferings, understanding and compassion can gently take through the worst… But unfortunately this rarely happens, and Una Furtva Lagrima is as relevant as it was at the time it was written.

In my view this piece goes to the very root of the condition and captures its very essence. In this story the main protagonist is an uncouth peasant. He falls in love with a woman more sophisticated than himself, who has always been arrogant towards him, without any hope of winning her heart. So, in order to help himself he buys what he believes to be an elixir of love, a potion capable of making anyone irresistible to the object of his affection. In reality it’s just a cheap wine. He drinks it (which makes him completely drunk) and when he sees the woman of his dreams he spots a tear in her eyes. He believes his elixir is working and her tear is a sign that she has feelings for him… In reality she is simply annoyed with him.

Una furtiva lagrima
negli occhi suoi spuntò:
Quelle festose giovani
invidiar sembrò.
Che più cercando io vo?
Che più cercando io vo?
M’ama! Sì, m’ama, lo vedo. Lo vedo.
Un solo istante i palpiti
del suo bel cor sentir!
I miei sospir, confondere
per poco a’ suoi sospir!
I palpiti, i palpiti sentir,
confondere i miei coi suoi sospir…
Cielo! Si può morir!
Di più non chiedo, non chiedo.
Ah, cielo! Si può! Si, può morir!
Di più non chiedo, non chiedo.
Si può morir! Si può morir d’amor.

A single furtive tear
from her eyes sprang:
Of those festive, young girls
envious it seemed to be.
What more need I look for?
What more need I look for?
She loves me! Yes, she loves me, I see it. I see it.
Just for an instant the beating of
her beautiful heart I heard!
And my sighs became as one
fleetingly with her sighs!
Her heart beating, her heart beating to hear,
our sighs confounded as one…
Heavens! Yes I could, I could die!
More I can’t ask, I can’t ask.
Oh, heavens! Yes I could! Yes I could die!
More I can’t ask, I can’t ask.
Yes I could die! If I could die of love.

This is exactly what happens to you. You scour for any signs, however small, to convince yourself that you mean something to him/her, only to sober up and see that you have no meaning at all. This unrelenting roller-coaster your mind sends you on can exhaust you to delirium. Every sign can become a proof that you’re meant to be together, and the wilder your imagination runs, the more devastating your comeback to reality becomes. You see the tear, and you feel the heartbeat, and your respective sighs become as one… but then it strikes you that you’re on your own.

Next time you think you’re screwed – think Una Furtiva Lagrima.

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