Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 15th of September 2013 at 3.03 - 6 pm
DONIZETTI: La Favorite, an opera in four acts
Léonore de Guzman.... Alice Coote
Inès.............................. Judith Gauthier
Fernand........................ Marc Laho
Alphonse XI................ Ludovic Tézier
Balthazar...................... Carlo Colombara
Don Gaspar.................. Loic Felix
France Chorus, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées Chorus,
(recorded in the Théâtre des Champs-Eysées, Paris
by Radio France)
The recording I have of this opera (in a foot-square box of three Decca discs, from 1974, released in 1978) has Luciano Pavarotti as Fernand(o) and the conductor is Richard Bonynge , yet there is no sign or sound of Joan Sutherland, but Fiorenza Cossotto is Leonora, and Ileana Cotrubas is Ines.
The opera was originally composed in French for Paris (1840), as La Favorite, translated as The Favorite when presented at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane in 1843; at this moment I am looking at the poster announcing it, reproduced in the accompanying big-booklet, which has the title La Favorita, with text in Italian. Being designed for the Paris Opera, it naturally, or essentially, includes a ballet (billed at Drury Lane as "un divertissement" with a "grotesque pas de Chinois" et cetera.
Who is this favourite female? Her name is Leonora (as are all operatic heroines, even in Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio).
The setting is Spain in 1340, when Muslims are invading and disturbing the pilgrims on the St Giacomo trail (El Camino de Santiago, as seen in the movie THE WAY) (James or Jacob, properly Ya`qob, was a brother of Jesus and the first bishop of Jerusalem, and was the head of the church in its beginnings; his remains were (allegedly) brought here after his martyrdom in the Holy City.
The story goes that a novice in a "convent", named Fernando, a monk not a nun (in the monastery of Saint James, actually) falls in love with a woman (he did but see her passing by, but he will love her till he die); he takes compassionate leave to woo her; his superior disapproves, and predicts that after he has experienced the wicked world he will return. The lady accepts him and uses her connections to get him into the army, where he distinguishes himself with such bravery that King Alfonso rewards him with a gift of his own choice: he wishes to marry Leonora. Well, all right, go ahead, don't delay; but the monarch had already enjoyed her intimate friendship, she was his absolute favourite, and he had marked her out to be his queen, when he had divorced his current wife. Sure enough, Fernando finds out after they are wedded, and makes an unnecessary fuss about being dishonoured, and so he flees back to the monastery. Leonora follows him there, and they are reconciled, in a tender love duet, but the stress has been too great, and she dies in his arms.
But what happened next? He withdrew to his monastic cell permanently, or went back to his military barracks? The Italian version ends with him saying "She is dead". but the French version, in this performance, has Fernand saying "You will pray for me tomorrow" (meaning he intends to die now?).