Music with Ease > 19th Century Italian Opera > La Favorita (Donizetti) - Synopsis
La Favorita -
An Opera by Gaetano Donizetti
Opera in four acts, by Donizetti; words by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Waez, adapted from the drama "Le Comte de Comminges," of Baculard-Darnaud. Produced at the Grand Opéra, Paris, December 2, 1840. London, in English, 1843; in Italian, 1847. New York, Park Thatre, October 4, 1848.
ALFONSO XI, King of Castile
FERDINAND, a young novice of the Monastery of St. James Of Compostella; afterwards an officer
DON GASPAR, the Kings Minister
BALTHAZAR, Superior of the Monastery of St. James
LEONORA DI GUSMANN
INEZ, her confidante
Courtiers, guards, monks, ladies of the court, attendants.
Time: About 1340.
Place: Castile, Spain.
Leonora, with Campanini as Fernando, was, for a number of seasons, one of the principal roles of Annie Louise Cary at the Academy of Music. Mantelli as Leonora, Cremonini as Fernando, Ancona as King Alfonso, and Plancon as Balthazar, appeared, 1895-96, at the Metropolitan, where "La Favorita" was heard again in 1905; but the work never became a fixture, as it had been at the Academy of Music. The fact is that since then American audiences, the most spoiled in the world, have established an operatic convention as irrevocable as the laws of the Medes and Persians. In opera the hero must be a tenor, the heroine a true soprano. "La Favorita" fulfils the first requisite, but not the second. The heroine is a role for contralto, or mezzo-soprano. Yet the opera contains some of Donizettis finest music, both solo and ensemble. Pity tis not heard more frequently.
There is in "La Favorita" a strong, dramatic scene at the end of the third act. As if to work up to this as gradually as possible, the opera opens quietly.
Ferdinand, a novice in the Monastery of St. James of Compostella, has chanced to see and has fallen in love with Leonora the mistress of Alfonso, King of Castile. He neither knows her name, nor is he aware of her equivocal position. So deeply conceived is his passion, it causes him to renounce his novitiate and seek out its object.
Act I. The interior of the monastery. Ferdinand makes known to Balthazar, the Superior, that he desires to renounce his novitiate, because he has fallen in love, and cannot banish the woman of his affections from his thoughts. He describes her to the priest as "Una vergine, un angel di Dio" (A virgin, an angel of God).
Although this air bears no resemblances to "Celeste Aida" its flowing measures and melodious beauty, combined with its position so early in the opera, recall the Verdi aria- and prepare for it the same fate-which is to be marred by the disturbance caused by late-comers and to remain unheard by those who come still later.
Balthazars questions elicit from Ferdinand that his only knowledge of the woman, whose praises he has sung, is of her youth and beauty. Name and station are unknown to him, although he believes her to be of high rank. Balthazar, who had hoped that in time Ferdinand would become his successor as superior of the monastery, releases him reluctantly from his obligations, and prophesies, as the novice turns away from the peaceful shades of the cloister, that he will retrace his steps, disappointed and heart-broken, to seek refuge once more within the monasterys walls.
The scene changes to an idyllic prospect on the island of St. Leon, where Leonora lives in splendour. She, in her turn, is deeply enamoured of Ferdinand, yet is convinced that, because of her relations with King Alfonso, he will despise her should be discover who she is. But so great is her love him, that without letting him learn her name or station, she has arranged that he shall be brought blindfolded, to the island.
"Bel raggi lucenti" (Bright sunbeams, lightly dancing), a graceful solo and chorus for Inez, Lenoras confidante, and her woman companions, opens the scene.
It is followed by "Dolce zeffiro il seconda" (Gentle zephyr, lightly wafted), which is sung by the chorus of women, as the boat conveying Ferdinand touches the island and he, after disembarking, has the bandage withdrawn from over his eyes, and looks in amazement upon the charming surroundings amid which he stands. He questions Inez regarding the name and station of her who holds gentle sway over the island, but in vain. Inez and her companions retire, as Leonora enters. She interrupts Ferdinands delight at seeing her by telling him -- but without giving her reasons -- that their love can lead only to sorrow; that they must part. He protests vehemently. She, however, cannot be moved from her determination that he shall not be sacrificed to their love, and hands him a parchment, which she tells him will lead him to a career of honour.
He still protests. But at that moment Inez, entering hurriedly, announces the approach the approach of the King. Leonora bids Ferdinand farewell and goes hastily to meet Alfonso. Ferdinand now believes that the woman with whom he has fallen in love is of rank so high that she cannot stoop to wed him, yet expresses her love for him by seeking to advance him. This is confirmed when, on reading the scroll she has given him, he discovers that it gratifies his highest ambition and confers upon him a commission in the army. The act closes with his martial air, "Si, che un tuo solo accento" (Oh, fame, thy voice inspiring).
He sees the path to glory open up before him, and with it the hope that some great deed may yet make him worthy to claim the hand of the woman he loves.
Act II. Gardens of the Palace of the Alcazar. Ferdinands dream of glory has come true. We learn, through a brief colloquy between Alfonso and Don Gaspar, his minister, that the young officer has led the Spanish army to victory against the Moors. Indeed, this very palace of the Alcazar has been wrested from the enemy by the young hero.
Gaspar having retired, the King, who has no knowledge of the love between Ferdinand and Leonora, sings of his own passion for her in expressive air, "Vien, Leonora, a piedi tuoi" (Come, Leonora, before the kneeling).
The object of his love enters, accompanied by her confidante. The King has prepared, a fête in celebration of Ferdinands victory, but Leonora, while rejoicing in the honours destined to be his, is filled with foreboding because of the illicit relations between herself and the King, when she truly loves another. Moreover, these fears find justification in the return of Gaspar with a letter in Ferdinands handwriting, and intended for Leonora, but which the minister has intercepted in the hand of Inez. The Kings angry questions regarding the identity of the writer are interrupted by confused sounds from without. There enters Balthazar, preceded by a priest bearing a scroll with the Papal seal. He faces the King and Leonora while the lords and ladies, who have gathered for the fate, look on in apprehension, though not wholly without knowledge of what is impending.
For there is at the court of Alfonso a strong party that condemns the Kings illicit passion for Leonora, so openly shown. This party has appealed to the Papal throne against the King. The Pope has sent a Bull to Balthazar, in which the Superior of the Monastery of St. James is authorized to pronounce the interdict on the King if the latter refuses to dismiss his favourite from the Court and restore his legitimate wife to her rights. It is with this commission Balthazar has now appeared before the King, who at first is inclined to refuse obedience to the Papal summons. He wavers. Balthazar gives him time till the morrow, and until then withholds his anathema.
Balthazars vigorous yet dignified denunciation of the King, "Ah paventa il furor dun Dio vendicatore" (Do not call down the wrath of God, the avenger, upon thee), forms a broadly sonorous foundation for the finale of the act.
Act III. A salon in the Palace of the Alcazar. In a brief scene the King informs his minister that he has decided to heed the behest of the church and refrain from braving the Papal malediction. He bids Gaspar send Leonora to him, but, at the first opportunity, to arrest Inez, her accomplice.
It is at this juncture, as Gaspar departs, that Ferdinand appears at court, returning from the war, in which he has not only distinguished himself by his valour, but actually has saved the kingdom. Alfonso asks him to name the prize which he desires as recompense for his services. Leonora enters. Ferdinand, seeing her, at once asks for the bestowal of her hand upon him in marriage. The King, who loves her deeply, and has nearly risked the wrath of the Pope for her sake, nevertheless, because immediately aware of the passion between the two, gives his assent, but with reluctance, as indeed appears from the irony that pervades his solo, "A tanto amor" (Thou flowr belovd).
He then retires with Ferdinand.
Leonora, touched by the Kings magnanimity, inspired by her love for Ferdinand, yet shaken by doubts and fears, because aware that he knows nothing of her past, now expresses these conflicting feelings in her principal air, "O, mio Fernando," one of the great Italian airs for mezzo-soprano.
She considers that their future happiness depends upon Ferdinands being truthfully informed of what her relations have been with the King, thus giving him full opportunity to decide whether, with this knowledge of her guilt, he will marry her, or not. Accordingly she dispatches Inez with a letter to him. Inez, as she is on her way to deliver this letter, is intercepted by Gaspar, who carries out the Kings command and orders her arrest. She is therefore unable to place in Ferdinands hands the letter of Leonora.
Into the presence of the assembled nobles the King now brings Ferdinand, decorates him with a rich chain, and announces that he has created him Count of Zamora. The jealous lords whisper among themselves about the scandal of Ferdinands coming marriage with the mistress of the King; but Leonora, who enters in bridal attire, finds Ferdinand eagerly awaiting her, and ready to wed her, notwithstanding, as she believes, his receipt of her communication and complete knowledge of her past.
While the ceremony is being performed in another apartment, the nobles discuss further the disgrace to Ferdinand in this marriage. That Leonora was the mistress of the King is, of course, a familiar fact at court, and the nobles regard Ferdinands elevation to the rank of nobility as a reward, not only for his defeat of the Moors, but also for accommodatingly taking Leonora off the hands of the King, when the latter is threatened with the malediction of Rome. They cannot imagine that the young officer is ignorant of the relations that existed between his bride and the King.
Ferdinand re-enters. In high spirits he approaches the courtiers, offers them his hand, which they refuse. Balthazar now comes to learn the decision of the King. Ferdinand, confused by the taunting words and actions of the courtiers, hastens to greet Balthazar, who not having seen him since he has returned victorious and loaded with honours, embraces him, until he hears Gaspars ironical exclamation, "Leonoras bridgegroom!" Balthazar starts back, and it is then Ferdinand learns that he has just been wedded "alla bella del Re" -- to the mistress of the King.
At this moment, when Ferdinand has just been informed of what he can only interpret as his betrayal by the King and the royal favourite, Alfonso enters, leading Leonora, followed by her attendants. In a stirring scene, the dramatic climax of the opera, Ferdinand tears from his neck the chain Alfonso has bestowed upon him, and throws it contemptuously upon the floor, breaks his sword and casts it at the Kings feet, then departs with Balthazar, the nobles now making a passage for them, and saluting, while they sing.
Ferdinand, the truly brave,
We salute, and pardon cravel!
Act IV. The cloisters of the Monastery of St. James. Ceremony of Ferdinands entry into the order. "Splendor piu belle -- in ciel le stele" (Behold the stars in splendour celestial), a distinguished solo and chorus for Balthazar and the monks.
Left alone, Ferdinand gives vent to his sorrow, which still persists, in the romance, "Spirto gentil" (Spirit of Light), one of the most exquisite tenor solos in the Italian repertory.
In 1882, thirty-four years after Donizettis death, there was produce in Rome an opera by him entitled "Il Duca dAlba" (The Duke of Alba). Scribe wrote the libretto for Rossini, who does not appear to have used it. So it was passed on to Donizetti, who composed, but never produced it. "Spirto gentil" was in this opera, from which Donizetti simply transferred it.
Balthazar and the monks return. With them Ferdinand enters the chapel. Leonora, disguised as a novice, comes upon the scene. She hears the chanting of the monks, Ferdinands voice enunciating his vows. He comes out from the chapel, recognizes Leonora, bids her be gone. "Ah! va, tin vola! e questa terra" (These cloisters fly, etc.)
She, however, tells him of her unsuccessful effort to let him know of her past, and craves his forgiveness for the seeming wrong she has wrought upon him. "Clemente al par di Dio" (Forgiveness through God I crave of thee).
All of Ferdinands former love returns for her. "Vieni, ah! vieni," etc. (Joy once more fills my breast).
He would bear her away to other climes and there happily pass his days with her. But it is too late. Leonora dies in his arms. "By to-morrow my soul, too, will want your prayers," are Ferdinands words to Balthazar, who approaching, has drawn Leonoras cowl over her disheveled hair. He calls upon the monks to pray for a departed soul.