Somewhere out in the country in the blistering heat, everyone is going about their work. Nemorino is the only one with his thoughts elsewhere: Adina, who he has been in love with for a long time, is what is occupying his mind. However, he has little hope that the young woman – much better off than him and of academic background – will ever fall for him, a poor, uneducated worker at her farm. In a short break from their work, the farmhands listen to Adina reading from the ancient legend Tristan and Isolde. Nemorino immediately identifies with the enamored Tristan. His ears prick up as he hears how Tristan unlocks Isolde’s sealed heart with the help of a magic potion. Adina’s public reading is interrupted by Sergeant Belcore and his troops approaching. Belcore is convinced he is as unbeatable in love as he is in battle, and makes no secret of the fact that he is after Adina’s heart. Adina is flattered, but is keen to keep her distance. Given his rival’s unabated self-confidence, Nemorino musters up all his courage and turns to Adina in a repeated attempt to show his love for her. Adina is less than impressed with Nemorino’s regular declarations of love, and gives him a lesson in the matter of love: she does not believe in a long-term commitment, nor does she have much regard for grand emotions. She is up for more adventure with a different lover every day. She tells Nemorino that he should not spare any more thoughts for her. The sudden arrival of a stranger causes a stir, yet this eloquent intruder manages to gain the trust of the workforce in no time: He is, as he declares, a well-travelled healer and scholar by the name of Dulcamara and is able to produce elixirs, designed to eliminate any suffering, of course for a bargain price for all. Nemorino asks Dulcamara for the legendary potion that had granted Tristan Isolde’s love. Dulcamara identifies the young man’s problem, and confirms he has just the thing for him. He prepares an elixir, telling Nemorino that it would guarantee him the attention of numerous young ladies exactly 24 hours after taking it. (By that time, Dulcamara, having actually served Nemorino a concoction mainly consisting of red wine, would be long gone). Nemorino asserts that he only craves the love of one woman. The first sip of this potion gives him a new-found easiness. The next time Adina and Nemorino meet, she is confused by his confident demeanour. She decides to put Nemorino’s marked indifference to the test and gives in to Belcore’s demands to marry him within a week. Nemorino is so confident that the elixir will secure Adina’s love for hi the next day, he just laughs off this behaviour. But as Belcore receives the order to retreat with his troops, he convinces Adina to get married on the same day. Nemorin begs Adina to wait, to no avail. Panicking, he realises he needs to accelerate the effects of the elixir, and calls for Dulcamara – the only person who can work miracles.
Dulcamara, meanwhile worshipped by all, is guest of honour at the hastily arranged celebratory banquet. Adina, expecting to find satisfaction im Nemorino’s presence at the ceremony, is unable to see him among the guests. Despite the notary arriving, she hesitates to sign the marriage papers. Nemorino craves a second dose of the elixir from Dulcamara, but does not have sufficient funds. Dulcamara grants him some respite to obtain adequate payment. In desperation, Nemorino accepts Belcore’s proposal to be recruited, and then hurries to Dulcamara with the payment he has received. In the meantime, Adina’s younger sister, Gianetta, spreads confidential information among the ladies that Nemorino has supposedly suddenly come into money following the death of a wealthy uncle. Everyone instantly shows increased interest in the unsuspecting Nemorino. Dulcamara and Adina see how the women grapple for his attention. Dulcamara is perplex at the effect his elixir has on Nemorino and sings his own praises in front of Adina. As Adina begins to comprehend the lengths Nemorino went to by using an elixir to sell his freedom, she realises the extent of his feelings for her, and she regrets her dismissive behaviour. Dulcamara attests to Adina’s signs of infatuation, and offers her some of the elixir. Adina turns down his gesture, convinced that she is able to regain Nemorino’s love by herself. The fuss surrounding Nemorino becomes all too much for him, and he surrenders to his dreams. He remembers seeing a tear in Adina’s eye, proving to him that he means so much to her. As it happens, Adina would like to talk to him: She explains to him that she has purchased back his military contract with Belcore’s troops and tells him to continue leading his normal life – liked by everyone for his amiable nature. Nemorino, however,
expects nothing less than a declaration of love from her. When this does not happen, he insists on leaving with Belcore. At this point, Adina lets go of all her feelings, and admits to Nemorino that she loves him. He can hardly believe his luck when he sees Adina’s transformation. Belcore takes Adina’s declaration to marry Nemorino instead of him calmly. Dulcamara acknowledges the power of his skills which led not only to Nemorino finding love but also to his wealth. He relishes in being celebrated as a miracle worker and disappears in the midst of unfurling joy.