Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) was the most prolific of all the major composers of opera. He wrote about 70 operas, a lot of chamber music, and religious works All the frenzied activity before he went mad from syphylis in his 40s and then died at 50. La Favorite was written in 1840 to a French text for the Paris Opéra. It was very loosely based on the life of Leonora de Guzman the mistress of King Alfonso XI of Castile. The opera is often done to an Italian translation as La Favorita. The composer is said to have written the fourth and final act in three to four hours. Donizetti’s compositional facility was such that this story is believable.
The plot is a love triangle. Léonor is the king’s mistress. She and Fernand fall in love. The king wants to marry his mistress but is prevented from doing so by a papal bull. After Fernand defeats the Moors he asks for Léonor’s hand. He’s the only person in Christendom who doesn’t know she’s the king’s mistress. Léonor sends him a message outlining her compromised position. It goes astray and he doesn’t learn that she’s been living in sin with the king until after they’re married. When he realizes what’s happened he has a fit, declines all the honors given him by the king, breaks his sword, and returns to the monastery he was in at the opera’s start. This action is the finale linked below.
Though written to a French text, the opera is most often given (if performed at all) in its Italian incarnation. Though some critics deem the French version as far superior to the Italian, when you listen to the music its Italian origin is everywhere apparent. It sounds like an Italian opera and that likely is the reason for it appearance in that language most of the time.
The opera has a strange arc at the Met. First staged by the company in 1896, it was brought back for Caruso in 1905. After five performances it disappeared for 73 years until the company mounted the opera for Luciano Pavarotti in 1978. In the ensuing 44 years it has remained on the shelf in the New York house’s library. It’s a pretty good work that, given some of the 8th nerve assaults the Met has inflicted on its gullible audience, deserves another chance. The finale’s energy is typical of Donizetti’s depiction of emotional crises. It is the parent of Verdi’s great outbursts of passion, particularly in the operas of the first half of his long career.
First La Favorita. This recording features the distinctive voice of Luciano Pavarotti. Conductor Richard Bonynge keeps a brisk pace. La Favorita Act 3 finale
The same finale is presented in its original French version. Fabio Luisi conducts a less distinguished cast than that assembled by Bonynge. La Favorite Act 3 finale