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DONIZETTI: La Favorite

spacer Aldrich, Souquet; Shi, Gabriel, Tézier, G. Furlanetto; Orchestra and Chorus of the Capitole de Toulouse, Allemandi. Production: Boussard. Opus Arte OA1166D (DVD), OABD7165D (Blu-ray); 164 mins., subtitled

Recordings Favorite DVD Cover 815

If Donizetti’s Favorita is a relative rarity (the Met has performed it only twenty-five times, including on tour), his masterful Favorite is rarer still — the original French version, its fifteen-minute ballet accorded its due, its libretto untainted by Italian censors and translators. A fanciful love triangle inspired by two historical lovers, Alfonso XI of Castile and his equally blue-blooded longtime mistress, Leonor de Guzmán, it invents as its third-point interloper a rather clueless young monk-to-be who instantly falls for “un ange, une femme inconnue” while both are supposedly deep in prayer at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The music is prime late Donizetti — it closed his composition book for 1840, a banner year in his French output, with La Fille du Régiment in February and his revision of Poliuto as Les Martyrs in April — and to my mind (and ears), it’s a better, tighter, more elegantly songful score than any of the more popular “Three Queens.”

I wish this performance, caught in Toulouse in February 2014, did it justice, but in truth it’s at best a stopgap until its superior comes along. (But will it?) There’s no ballet at all, and the structure — not just of Act II but of the entire opera — suffers from its omission. And here’s another silly production by Vincent Boussard, who gave San Francisco the absurd Bellini Capuleti recently released on DVD. Though his stylized movement isn’t quite so intrusive here, he still seems out of sync with the bel canto spirit, more inclined to poke fun at it than to embrace its romantic excesses. We know what we’re in for from the start, with Fernand in a T-shirt, toting a 1920s-vintage suitcase (the best-illuminated thing onstage) and in the very ingenuous guise of tenor Yijie Shi, calling to mind little Patrick Dennis in search of Beekman Place and Auntie Mame. Vincent Lemaire’s cheap-looking sets, with their arches and beaded-curtain side boxes and (of course) chairs, are garishly lit by Guido Levi with a palette of lime green, lavender and pink that gives the cast the sinister glow of the undead. And Christian Lacroix’s costumes are simply godawful.

The decent cast deserves better. Kate Aldrich makes a glamorous-looking Léonor despite Lacroix’s bizarre inventions. Her voice, though, lacks comparable glamour; there’s little juice to the rather generic tone, little sense of reserve; she’s efficient but not compelling. Shi, a regular at Pesaro’s Rossini Festival, is undermined by his juvenile looks — still carrying his suitcase, he’s a very unconvincing victorious warrior in Act III — and (less so) by a voice, slender and pointed, that, like his leading lady’s, lacks the star power so many recorded predecessors have brought to the opera’s famous airs; all the same, his Fernand is decorously stylish and quite nicely sung. Ludovic Tézier has the voice and bearing for a perfect Alphonse, and his crystalline French is a joy to hear, but I’d like a little more suavity to his vocal manner, a little less full-out forte to his default tone.Giovanni Furlanetto — though he, too, looks implausibly young — is a good Baldassare, the opera’s rigorous moral compass. Antonello Allemandi conducts well (but shame on him for countenancing the ballet’s excision), and the sound and picture are just dandy. It’s what they convey that falls short. spacer

PATRICK DILLON

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