Are the Internet and social media the new spell?

For centuries the thematic of the potion that spells love between two young people was approached by different literatures. From medieval literature to “La Celestina” by Fernando de Rojas (1465-1541) in the Spanish 16th century, through the magic drink of Tristan and Isolde, which is remembered even in Italian comic opera. This is the case of one of the most performed operas to this day: L’elissire d’amore (The Elixir of Love) by Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848), with a script by Felice Romani (1788-1865), premiered in 1832. From the beginning, the myth of Tristan is evoked in its Italian version. The modest Nemorino wishes to fall in love with Adina, a noble girl, who, because of her social status, is beyond his reach. Nemorino, raised in the countryside, overhears in street conversations the story of Tristano, the medieval hero who managed to win the love of Queen Isotta by ingesting a unique brew. Nemorino, exhilarated by the possibility of winning Adina’s love, seeks a similar solution. A charlatan called Dulcamara appears on the scene and, taking advantage of the peasant’s naivety, sells him an elixir of love that is nothing more than Bordeaux wine. Nemorino drinks it all, and the drunkenness fills his blood with the courage he needed. However, love becomes concrete when Adina is overcome by tenderness and becomes aware of her lover’s efforts in the course of the dramma giocoso.

Just as in other love stories a brew brings two young people together, in the myth of Orpheus the poison of a serpent -another type of potion- separates the couple on the eve of their union. Eurydice has died, and the young man in love throws himself into the underworld to bring her back to life. In this act appears another paradoxical connection with the various love stories, inasmuch grief is the bow that drives the arrow of love. Happiness is an Eurydice because Orpheus himself knows that he can rescue his beloved, but at the harsh price of not being able to look at her. The hero falls into temptation and she vanishes.

For the opera “The Elixir of Love”, Romani was influenced by the opera Le Philtre, premiered two years earlier, in 1830, with music by François Auber (1782-1871) and libretto by Eugène Scribe (1791-1861). Romani was an assiduous writer of adaptations of the popular themes of his time, and had written, in turn, the libretto for the opera “I Capuletti e i Montecchi”, by Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835), premiered in 1830. In the same year, Stendhal had also adapted for the theater a French version of “Il filtro” by Silvio Malaperta. This adaptation was the starting point for Auber and Scribe’s opera. In this way, the motif of the magic filter that fascinated Tristan and Isolde was widely used as an inspiration by artists of the 18th and 19th centuries.

For Denis de Rougemont (1906-1985), “the myth degenerates over time”, takes on other meanings, and suggests that the “Don Juan”, from Molière to Mozart, has been transformed. He also recognizes that in the course of history, creators of the magnitude of Richard Wagner can enthrone the myth and provide it with unprecedented dignity: “Until the day when Wagner, in a single stroke, raised the myth to its full stature and total virulence: only music could say the ineffable. It [opera] forced the ultimate mystery of Tristan.”

Rougemont finds in the myth of Tristan the model of adulterous love. For the Swiss philosopher, “love-passion,” that love that is suffered, finds its genesis in the literature of courtly love. Through a historical journey, Rougemont places his gaze on 17th century Verona as the Italian capital of courtly love, and observes that “we have ‘Romeo and Juliet’, which is the only courtesan tragedy and the most beautiful resurrection of the myth before Wagner’s Tristan”.

The love-passion to which Rougemont refers manifests itself in literature as an agony that has to overcome any obstacle, and which leads to fatality and catastrophe. In the demonstration of this thesis, the myth of Tristan has been one of his favorite means, from which he concludes: “Tristan, more than Isolde, loves by feeling loved. They do not need the other as he is but, rather, his absence”. Is this a condition peculiar to the couple of Tristan and Isolde? Rougemont states that Tristan and Isolde love each other, but each loves the other starting from himself, not starting from the other. This is a double narcissism, one mirroring the other, and he concludes, “Wagner has seen it long before Freud and modern psychologists.”

It is not unlikely that the aforementioned myths allude to a persevering reality in the human being. Could it be said that television, the internet and social media are the new potion for the new Tristanes and Isoldas?