Donizetti La favorita

Author: 
John Steane

Donizetti La favorita

  • (La) Favorita

La favorita has not been in favour at Covent Garden since 1896. Regretting the opera's lack of popularity in America, Kobbe observed that it contains some of Donizetti's finest music, and added ''Pity 'tis not heard more frequently''. He put it down to the lack of an important soprano role, for nobody wants a mere mezzo for heroine. '''Tis true 'tis pity and pity 'tis 'tis true'' we respond, doing our best imitations of Polonius. But after hearing (or returning to) this recording I think we probably say it with a bit more conviction, for it really is a very fine opera indeed. At least (for perhaps that is going a little too far), Kobbe was right about the music. Though there are passages where it fails to rise to the situation, and unfortunately the final duet is one of them, it has much in it that goes to the heart within the drama, and it is richly supplied with melody and opportunities for fine singing.
The opportunities are well taken here. The recording dates back to 1974, and has Pavarotti in freshest voice. That understates it: his singing is phenomenal. Wherever you care to test it, it responds. Of the two best-known solos, ''Una vergine'' in Act 1 is sung with graceful feeling for line and the shape of the verses (a fine rounding off of the first half of the second verse, for instance); the voice is evenly produced, of beautifully pure quality and with an excitingly resonant top C sharp; moreover, the aria is presented imaginatively as a narration. In ''Spirto gentil'' the quiet start, poised and well phrased, works towards intensified but unexaggerated emotion, a beautifully even descent on ''ahime'' (no aspirates) to the reprise of the melody, and though the lack of traditional cadenza is regrettable the finely controlled quiet ending has its own beauty. Throughout the opera he gives himself sincerely to the role dramatically as well as vocally.
Cossotto, who in her absolute prime was one of the most exciting singers I have heard, is just fractionally on the other side of it here; she still gives a magnificent performance, gentle as well as powerful, in a part she made very much her own at La Scala. The role of Alfonso attracted all the great baritones in the time when the opera was heard regularly. Here, Gabriel Bacquier provides a tasteful reminder of the French connection (first performance at Paris, 1840), singing with a somewhat colourless tone—there's no spread of the fantail as with Battistini in ''mai del don si pentira''. Yet Alfonso emerges as a credible character, a man of feeling, whose ''A tanto amor'' has, in context, a moving generosity of spirit and refinement of style. Ghiaurov brings sonority, Cotrubas sweetness, Piero De Palma character. The chorus is poorly recorded but that may be to its advantage. The orchestra does well under Bonynge, especially in the 20-minute stretch of ballet music which would be ten too many if less well played. Recorded sound is fine; the booklet contains a brief note, synopsis and text with not unamusing translation.'

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