Una furtiva lagrima (A furtive tear) is the romanza from Act II, Scene 2 of the Italian opera, L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love) by Gaetano Donizetti. It is sung by Nemorino (Caruso) when he finds that the love potion he bought to win his dream lady’s heart, Adina, works.
Nemorino is in love with Adina, but she isn’t interested in a relationship with an innocent, rustic man. To win her heart, Nemorino buys a “love potion” with all the money he has in his pocket. The “love potion” is actually a cheap red wine sold by a con business traveler. But when he sees Adina weeping, he knows that she has fallen in love with him and the “Elixir” works.
Caruso created the role of Nemorino the first time in February 1901 at La Scala in Milan. The conductor was the famous Toscanini, but the notoriously critical and reserved audience of La Scala did not react at all … until Caruso started singing – and he basically turned the performance from failure to success. The audience went wild and Caruso was compelled to repeat “Una furtiva lagrima” three times.
When Toscanini came back stage to go before the curtain with the artists, he embraced Caruso, then turned to the manager of La Scala, Giulio Gatti-Casazza, and said: “Per dio! Se questo Napoletano continua a cantare così, farà parlare di sè il mondo intero.” (By Heaven! If this Neapolitan continues to sing like this, he will make the whole world talk about him.) And a few years later the whole world talked about him. And still haven’t forgotten his “velvet” voice and intense empathy.