La favorite

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La Favorite
Grand opera by Gaetano Donizetti
Gaetano Donizetti (portrait by Joseph Kriehuber, 1842).jpg
The composer in 1842
Librettist
LanguageFrench
Based onLe comte de Comminges
by Baculard d'Arnaud
Premiere
2 December 1840 (1840-12-02)

La Favorite (The Favourite, sometimes referred to by its Italian title: La favorita) is a grand opera in four acts by Gaetano Donizetti to a French-language libretto by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz, based on the play Le comte de Comminges by Baculard d'Arnaud. The opera concerns the romantic struggles of the King of Castile, Alfonso XI and his mistress, the "favourite" Leonora, against the backdrop of the political wiles of receding Moorish Spain and the life of the Catholic Church. It premiered on December 2, 1840 at the Académie Royale de Musique (Salle Le Peletier) in Paris, France.

Grand opera opera genre

Grand opera is a genre of 19th-century opera generally in four or five acts, characterized by large-scale casts and orchestras, and lavish and spectacular design and stage effects, normally with plots based on or around dramatic historic events. The term is particularly applied to certain productions of the Paris Opéra from the late 1820s to around 1850; 'grand opéra' has sometimes been used to denote the Paris Opéra itself.

Gaetano Donizetti 19th-century Italian opera composer

Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti was an Italian composer. Along with Gioachino Rossini and Vincenzo Bellini, Donizetti was a leading composer of the bel canto opera style during the first half of the nineteenth century. Donizetti's close association with the bel canto style was undoubtedly an influence on other composers such as Giuseppe Verdi.

Libretto text used for an extended musical work

A libretto is the text used in, or intended for, an extended musical work such as an opera, operetta, masque, oratorio, cantata or musical. The term libretto is also sometimes used to refer to the text of major liturgical works, such as the Mass, requiem and sacred cantata, or the story line of a ballet.

Contents

Background

Originally, Donizetti had been composing an opera by the name of Le Duc d'Albe as his second work for the Opéra in Paris. However, the director, Léon Pillet, objected to an opera without a prominent role for his mistress, mezzo-soprano Rosine Stoltz. Donizetti therefore abandoned Le Duc d'Albe and borrowed heavily from L'ange de Nisida , an unrealized project from 1839, to create La Favorite.

Léon Pillet, was a 19th-century French journalist, civil servant, and director of the Paris Opera from 1840 to 1847. A political appointee, he was probably the least successful director of the Paris Opera in the 19th century.

A mezzo-soprano or mezzo (, ; Italian pronunciation: [ˈmɛddzo soˈpraːno] meaning "half soprano") is a type of classical female singing voice whose vocal range lies between the soprano and the contralto voice types. The mezzo-soprano's vocal range usually extends from the A below middle C to the A two octaves above (i.e. A3–A5 in scientific pitch notation, where middle C = C4; 220–880 Hz). In the lower and upper extremes, some mezzo-sopranos may extend down to the F below middle C (F3, 175 Hz) and as high as "high C" (C6, 1047 Hz). The mezzo-soprano voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, lyric, and dramatic mezzo-soprano.

Rosine Stoltz French operatic mezzo-soprano

Rosine Stoltz was a French mezzo-soprano. A prominent member of the Paris Opéra, she created many leading roles there including Ascanio in Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini, Marguerite in Auber's Le lac des fées, the title role in Marie Stuart, and two Donizetti heroines, Léonor in La favorite and Zayda in Dom Sébastien.

Donizetti wrote the entire final act in three to four hours, with the exception of the cavatina and a part of a duet, which were added at the rehearsal stage. [1]

Performance history

The Opéra's original production (Paris, 1840) had costumes designed by Paul Lormier and sets produced by two teams of scenic artists: René-Humanité Philastre and Charles-Antoine Cambon (Acts I and III), Charles Séchan, Léon Feuchère, Jules Diéterle and Édouard Desplechin (Acts II and IV). Revivals at the Palais Garnier, on 25 January 1875 and 3 February 1896, increased the scale of the staging but remained true to the original concept of 1840. The opera continued to be performed each season at the Opéra up to 1894, remaining in its repertoire until 1918, as well as maintaining a presence in the French provinces through this period.

Charles-Antoine Cambon French Painter and creator of stage decor

Charles-Antoine Cambon was a French scenographer who acquired international notoriety in the Romantic Era.

Charles Polycarpe Séchan was a French painter and theatre designer.

Jules Diéterle 19th-century French architect

Jules Diéterle was a 19th-century French architect, also a draftsman, painter, painter on porcelain, sculptor and theatre decorator.

In 1897, Arturo Toscanini conducted the work in Bergamo for the Donizetti centenary. [2] It was revived in Padua under the title of Leonora di Guzman in 1842, and at La Scala as Elda in 1843 with Marietta Alboni in the title role, though Donizetti himself was not involved in these productions.

Arturo Toscanini Italy-born American conductor

Arturo Toscanini was an Italian conductor. He was one of the most acclaimed musicians of the late 19th and of the 20th century, renowned for his intensity, his perfectionism, his ear for orchestral detail and sonority, and his eidetic memory. He was at various times the music director of La Scala in Milan, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and the New York Philharmonic. Later in his career he was appointed the first music director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra (1937–54), and this led to his becoming a household name through his radio and television broadcasts and many recordings of the operatic and symphonic repertoire.

Marietta Alboni Italian operatic contralto

Marietta Alboni was a renowned Italian contralto opera singer. She is considered as 'one of the greatest contraltos in operatic history'.

The London premiere was in English at Drury Lane in 1843 with soprano Emma Romer, [3] and then in French two years later at Covent Garden, and in Italian at Her Majesty's in 1847. New Orleans first saw the piece in 1843 in French (followed by a performance in New York by the New Orleans French Opera Company), and the Metropolitan Opera mounted a production 1895. [4] Italian revivals in the mid-20th century took place at La Scala Milan in 1934 with Ebe Stignani and Pertile, in Rome a year later with Cobelli and Gigli, followed by further revivals in both cities, several featuring Stignani in the title role. [4] In 1978, the opera was revived at the Metropolitan Opera (in Italian) with Shirley Verrett and Luciano Pavarotti, having not been heard since Enrico Caruso sang it there in 1905, 72 years previously.

Emma Romer British soprano singer and theatre manager

Emma Romer, afterwards Emma Almond (1814–1868) was a leading British soprano of the 19th century, and for three years a theatre manager and producer.

Ebe Stignani was an Italian opera singer, who was pre-eminent in the dramatic mezzo-soprano roles of the Italian repertoire during a stage career of more than thirty years.

Aureliano Pertile Italian opera singer

Aureliano Pertile was an Italian lyric-dramatic tenor. Many critics consider him one of the most exciting operatic artists of the inter-war period, and one of the most important tenors of the 20th century.

Among other performances, the Bavarian State Opera presented a new production of the work in the original French version in 2016, with Elīna Garanča, tenor Matthew Polenzani and Mariusz Kwiecień in the leading roles. [5]

Roles

RoleVoice typePremiere Cast, 2 December 1840 [6]
(Conductor: François Habeneck)
Léonor de Guzman (Leonora di Gusmann) mezzo-soprano Rosine Stoltz
Fernand (Fernando) tenor Gilbert Duprez
Alphonse XI, King of Castile baritone Paul Barroilhet
Balthazar (Baldassare), superior to the convent of Saint James of Compostela bass Nicolas Levasseur
Don Gaspar, officer of the kingtenor François Wartel
Inès (Inez), confidante to Léonor soprano Elian
A lordtenor Molinier
Lords and ladies of the court, a maiden, pages, guards, monks of the Order of Saint James of Compostela, pilgrims

Synopsis

Time: 1340
Place: Royaume de Castille

A love triangle involving the King of Castile, Alfonso XI, his mistress ('the favourite') Leonora, and her lover Fernando, the story unfolds against the background of the Moorish invasions of Spain and power struggles between church and state.

Act 1

Scene 1

In the Monastery of St James, the monks are making their way to worship. Superior Balthazar (bass), father of the Queen of Castile, enters with Fernand (tenor). Balthazar knows that Fernand is preoccupied by something. Fernand confesses that he has fallen in love with a beautiful, but as yet unknown, lady. His faith in God remains, but he wishes to leave the monastery in search of her. Balthazar angrily sends Fernand out of the monastery, warning him of the dangers of the outside world. He predicts that Fernand will one day return to the cloisters, a disappointed if wiser man.

Scene 2

Fernand has found his lady, Léonor (mezzo-soprano), declared his love and received it in return, but he is still unaware of her real identity. She has arranged to meet him on the island of Leon, to which he is brought blindfolded by boat. He is met by Inès (soprano), her companion, who impresses upon him the need for secrecy. Léonor enters. She tells him that they can never marry and that they must not meet again, but nevertheless hands him a document to help him in his future. Shortly afterwards the arrival of the King is announced and Léonor leaves. Fernand is left to speculate about her elevated social position. Reading the document she has left him, he finds a commission in the army — an opportunity for advancement.

Act 2

Alfonse (baritone) has defeated the Moors and taken Alcazar. In conversation with the courtier Don Gaspar (tenor), the King expresses his pleasure at Fernand's bravery. Alone, the King expresses his love for Léonor and his desire to divorce the Queen and marry her. He realizes that this will provoke the opposition of his powerful father-in-law Balthazar who is ultimately backed by the Pope. Léonor enters and expresses her anguish at remaining his mistress rather than his Queen. The King suspects that he is losing her affection. Don Gaspar enters with news that a letter has been discovered revealing that Léonor has a lover. She makes no denial, but at that moment Balthazar enters intent on forcing the King to abandon his plans for the royal divorce.

Act 3

Gilbert Duprez & Rosine Stoltz in Donizetti's La Favorite.jpg
Rosine Stoltz as Leonor de Guzmán and Gilbert Duprez as Fernando in Act 4

Alfonse is to honour Fernand for his role in the war. He asks Fernand what reward he would like and Fernand asks to marry the woman who has inspired him in his bravery. Alfonse asks who she is and Fernand points to Léonor. The King is astonished to learn that Fernand is his successful rival. In an abrupt change of mind, he orders Fernand and Léonor to marry within one hour. Léonor is left with mixed feelings of apprehension and delight. She decides that Fernand must be informed about her past and sends Inès to him. However, unknown to Léonor, Inès is arrested before she can see him. Fernand only learns the truth after the wedding ceremony. Considering himself dishonoured by the King he breaks his sword, leaves Léonor and entrusts himself to Balthazar.

Act 4

Balthazar's daughter, the Queen, has died of jealousy and grief, and her body has been sent to him at the Monastery of St James. Prayers are being said for her repose. Fernand is preparing to enter his new religious life. Léonor enters in a state of exhaustion and faints before the cross. At first Fernand rejects her, but eventually moved by her love and sincerity, he is willing to give himself to her again, but it is too late, Léonor collapses once more and dies in his arms. [7]

Arrangements

In 1840, Richard Wagner made arrangements of the work for piano, for flute, and for a violin duo. [1]

Antonio Pasculli composed a concerto on themes from the opera for oboe and piano/orchestra (c. 1879).

Recordings

YearCast
(Léonor, Fernand,
Alphonse, Balthazar)
Conductor,
Opera House and Orchestra
Label [8]
1912 François Ruhlmann,
Orchestra and chorus of the Opéra-Comique de Paris
(in French)
Audio : Pathé (21 records)
1950Renato Cellini,
Orchestra e Coro del Palacio de Bellas Artes di Mexico
Black Disk: Cetra LO 2-3
1955Angelo Questa,
Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro della RAI di Torino
Audio CD: Warner Fonit
1955 Alberto Erede,
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Chorus and Orchestra
Audio CD: Decca
1967Bruno Bartoletti,
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Colón di Buenos Aires
(live performance, 26 June 1967)
Audio CD: Great Opera Performances 703
1968Ettore Gracis,
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Regio di Torino
(live performance, 28 March 1968)
Audio CD: Melodram MEL 27020
1971Oliviero de Fabritis,
Tokyo
Audio CD: Opera Magic's OM24165
1973Carlo Felice Cillario,
San Francisco Opera House Orchestra and Chorus
(live performance, 7 September 1973)
Audio CD: Frequenz
1974 Richard Bonynge,
Teatro Comunale di Bologna Chorus and Orchestra
Audio CD: Decca
1975 Eve Queler,
New York City Opera Orchestra, Brooklyn College Chorus
Audio CD: GALA
1976Francesco Molinari Pradelli,
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Genoa
Audio CD: Dynamic CDS 480
1978 Jesús López-Cobos,
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
(live performance, 11 March 1978)
Audio CD: Bensar
Cat: OL 31178
1991
Donato Renzetti,
RAI Milano
Audio CD: Fonit
1999 Marcello Viotti,
Munich Radio Orchestra and Bavarian Radio Choir
(in French)
Audio CD: RCA Red Seal
Cat: 74321 66229-2
1999
Antonello Allemandi,
Orchestra and Choir of the Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse
(in French)
DVD: Opus Arte
2017 Karel Mark Chichon, Bavarian State Orchestra and Choir (in French)DVD: Deutsche Grammophon

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References

Notes

  1. 1 2 Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed, 1954, Eric Blom, ed.
  2. Gaetano Donizetti: La Favorite, in Kaminski, Piotr. Mille et Un Opéras. Fayard, 2003, p377-379
  3. Middleton, Lydia Miller (1897). "Romer, Emma"  . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography . 49. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  4. 1 2 Kobbé, Gustave. Kobbé's Complete Opera Book, ed Harewood. Putnam, London & New York, 1954.
  5. Leipsic, Jeffrey. "La Favorite". operanews.com. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  6. Casaglia, Gherardo (2005). "La favorite, 2 December 1840" . L'Almanacco di Gherardo Casaglia ‹See Tfd› (in Italian). Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  7. Opera japonica The synopsis by Simon Holledge was first published at operajaponica.org and appears here by permission.
  8. "CLDOFAVO.HTM". operadis-opera-discography.org.uk.

Sources