Romantique – Elīna Garanča
Donizetti’s La favorite is better known as La favorita; but, like The Sicilian Vespers and Don Carlos, it’s a French opera, composed for Paris in 1840. Fernand and Léonor [sic] are about to marry, without his knowing that she is the mistress of the king. In ‘O mon Fernand!’, Léonor expresses her shame and despair. Elı¯na Garan∂a sings the slow section with artless simplicity and the cabaletta with passion. It’s good to learn that she plans to sing the part onstage.
She seems not to have performed most of the other roles represented here, the paradoxical exception being La damnation de Faust. Marguerite’s soliloquy, accompanied by an eloquent cor anglais, is movingly done; and Garan∂a gets even better with the urgent syncopations at ‘Je suis à ma fenêtre’. The cor anglais is also prominent in Dalila’s ‘Softly awakes my heart’. Couldn’t DG have fielded a tenor for Samson’s contributions? Never mind: Garan∂a is sensuous without being vampish – quite an achievement in this part.
Apart from Siébel’s impulsive little number in Faust – what a beautiful diminuendo on the cellos before the entry of the voice! – the rest is less well known. Joan of Arc’s aria has echoes of both Tatyana’s Letter Scene and Lensky’s farewell to life in Eugene Onegin but it’s none the worse for that. Garan∂a moves effortlessly from top to bottom without ever sacrificing beauty of tone. The Vaccai aria, regularly substituted throughout the 19th century for Bellini’s own ending to I Capuleti e i Montecchi, is well worth hearing, as are the airs by Gounod and Lalo. Fans – and others – need not hesitate.