OPERA NEWS - La Favorite
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La Favorite


In Review Caramoor Favorite hdl 815
Caramoor's concert performance of Donizetti's Favorite, featuring (left to right), soprano Isabella Gaudi, bass-baritone Daniel Mobbs, conductor Will Crutchfield, baritone Stephen Powell and mezzo-soprano Clementine Margaine
Photo by Gabe Palacio

WILL CRUTCHFIELD LED OFF THIS SEASON'S “Bel Canto at Caramoor” with Donizetti’s Favorite, engagingly performed in its original French. It was a rousing evening. Despite some uneven casting, Crutchfield’s advocacy will surely mean that those present will no longer think of this work—long marginalized, save for a few excerpts in Italian translation—as second-rate. The dramaturgy may be essentially old-fashioned, but the restoration of the French libretto solves problems noted at the last Met Favorita revival (1978) and elsewhere. Moreover, the music—here augmented with a fine duet cabaletta for the title character, Léonor, and her Castilian royal lover Alphonse XI, apparently unheard since the work’s 1840 world première—showed its strengths.

Crutchfield’s conducting probably has shown most improvement in his ability to shape and sustain finales and other concerted numbers; these pieces are, as it happens, among the richest— and most audibly proto-Verdian—in La Favorite. (The de rigeur ballet music, though inventive in terms of orchestration, is less convincing, especially when no dancers appear.) Hearing the opera responsibly performed also pointed up ways in which its blend of musical religiosity and sensuality anticipates Massenet, revealed an Act IV passage quoted by Berlioz (no fan of Donizetti) in Didon’s final speech, and suggested that aspects of the plot—beginning and ending at a monastery, with the troubled heroine returning before her death to get absolution from the returned tenor hero—may unconsciously underlie a work by another Donizetti non-fan, Wagner’s Parsifal. 

Vocally, the evening was dominated by Stephen Powell as Alphonse—the richest and most fully drawn character, who is is a clear model for Ernani’s regal Carlo. Powell exuded authority while using his fine sense of line and genuinely beautiful baritone to dispense Donizettian elegance, including a trill, true pitch and nuanced dynamics. Crutchfield’s other stylistic pillar was Daniel Mobbs, notably grown in bass resonance and fully inhabiting every word and stance of his character, the fulminating Balthazar. From there, things grew more complicated. Clémentine Margaine, in her area debut, suggested in terms of presence and arresting chest timbre why her Carmen has won acclaim. But the French mezzo’s gummy production and tendency to scoop worked against verbal clarity and evenness of line and registers. 

For Fernand, Crutchfield took a chance on the visibly and audibly inexperienced Santiago Ballerini. The Argentine tenor has undeniable assets, including an essentially pleasant timbre and freedom on top, but in a very testing evening for him—a marathon role for a New York debut—he didn’t manage to bring them into full play. His naïve platform manner, arms akimbo for virtually every climax, could be construed as suiting the naïveté of his character. More damagingly, however, he squeezed the line, inserted unwanted vocal catches and too frequently shaded flat in long phrases. Many in the audience bravoed lustily after “Ange si pur”; one had to assume they had never heard Donzetti’s lovely aria before. The Young Artists singing in the chorus offered fresh, alert work; those performing the small roles did not make much of an impression. The solo turns by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s all hit the mark. —David Shengold 

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