La Favorite, Washington Concert Opera, 2016
Washington Concert Opera has devoted this season to lesser-heard bel canto operas. After last fall's performance of Rossini's Semiramide, the company presented Donizetti's grand opera La Favorite on Friday evening at Lisner Auditorium, a first in the review history of Ionarts. Although it is known now in Italian versions, Donizetti premiered the work in Paris in 1840, to a French libretto by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz. Donizetti was forced to change his subject because Léon Pillet, then director of the Académie Royale de Musique, demanded that the new opera have a role for his mistress, mezzo-soprano Rosine Stoltz, who just a few years earlier had married and had a child with the Théâtre de La Monnaie in Brussels. In a nice touch, Donizetti gave Stoltz the title role of La Favorite, Léonor de Guzman, the mistress (favorite) of the King of Castile, Alfonso XI, who ends up dying, abandoned by both her lovers.
The libretto mixes the historical events of Guzman's life with the plot of Les amans malheureux, ou le Comte de Comminge by François-Thomas-Marie de Baculard d'Arnaud, about a nobleman living as a monk in a Trappist monastery, who falls in love with a woman who visits the monastery. Léonor visits a monastery where Fernand falls in love with her, over the opposition of the powerful abbot, who is the father of Alfonse's queen in the opera. The king, learning of the liaison with his favorite, orders that she be married to Fernand, but the conniving of his court reveals Léonor's sordid past, only after the wedding has taken place. The end of the real Léonor was less tragic, for after Alfonso XI's death, her oldest son with him succeeded his father to the throne.
Anne Midgette, The lighter side of ‘La favorite’ (Washington Post, March 6)
Philip Kennicott, Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey returns to Washington Concert Opera (PhilipKennicott.com, March 6)
Tenor Randall Bills, seen in a mostly silent role in Santa Fe Opera's Wozzeck in 2011, had a slightly unpleasant grain in his voice but knew how to phrase a line. His top notes registered but were not quite sure, especially the high C in the Act IV cavatine "Ange si pur." John Relyea had just the right sort of bluster for Balthazar, the imperious Superior of the monastery of Santiago de Compostela, while soprano Joélle Harvey was a sweet Inès, a little unstable in tone because of a fluttery vibrato but able to open up with clarity at the top, as in the cadenza that soared to high B-flat in the Act I aria "Rayons dorés." Conductor Antony Walker had to right a small issue in the violins at one point, but he held together a solid performance from his orchestra and chorus, with particularly lovely contributions from harp and horns.
Next season is the 30th anniversary of Washington Concert Opera, an event the company will mark with a concert on September 18, followed by performances of Massenet's Hérodiade (November 30) and Beethoven's Léonore (March 5, 2017).