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Gaetano Donizetti

LA FAVORITE - Donizetti

Leonor de Guzman - Veronica Simeoni
Fernand - Celso Albelo
Alphonse XI - Mattia Olivieri
Balthazar - Ugo Gualiardo
Inès - Francesca Longari
Don Gaspar - Manuel Amati
Un Seigneur - Leonardo Sgroi 

Chorus Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Orchestra Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Conductor - Fabio Luisi

La Favorite (The Favourite, sometimes referred to by its Italian title: La favorita) is a grand opera in four acts by Gaetano Donizetti to a French-language libretto by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz, based on the play Le comte de Comminges by Baculard d'Arnaud. It premiered on December 2, 1840 at the Académie Royale de Musique (Salle Le Peletier) in Paris, France.

Originally, Donizetti had been composing an opera by the name of Le Duc d'Albe as his second work for the Opéra in Paris. However, the director, Léon Pillet, objected to an opera without a prominent role for his mistress, mezzo-soprano Rosine Stoltz. Donizetti therefore abandoned Le Duc d'Albe and borrowed heavily from L'ange de Nisida, an unrealized project from 1839, to create La Favorite.

Donizetti wrote the entire final act in three to four hours, with the exception of the cavatina and a part of a duet, which were added at the rehearsal stage.

The Opéra's original production (Paris, 1840) had costumes designed by Paul Lormier and sets produced by two teams of scenic artists: René-Humanité Philastre and Charles-Antoine Cambon (Acts I and III), Charles Séchan, Léon Feuchère, Jules Diéterle and Édouard Desplechin (Acts II and IV). Revivals at the Palais Garnier, on 25 January 1875 and 3 February 1896, increased the scale of the staging but remained true to the original concept of 1840. The opera continued to be performed each season at the Opéra up to 1894, remaining in its repertoire until 1918, as well as maintaining a presence in the French provinces through this period.

In 1897 Toscanini conducted the work in Bergamo for the Donizetti centenary. It was revived in Padua under the title of Leonora di Guzman in 1842, and at La Scala as Elda in 1843 with Marietta Alboni in the title role, though Donizetti himself was not involved in these productions.

The London premiere was in English at Drury Lane in 1843 with soprano Emma Romer, and then in French two years later at Covent Garden, and in Italian at Her Majesty's in 1847. New Orleans first saw the piece in 1843 in French (followed by a performance in New York by the New Orleans French Opera Company), and the Metropolitan Opera mounted a production 1895. Italian revivals in the mid-20th century took place at La Scala Milan in 1934 with Ebe Stignani and Pertile, in Rome a year later with Cobelli and Gigli, followed by further revivals in both cities, several featuring Stignani in the title role. The opera was given at the Metropolitan Opera (in Italian) with Shirley Verrett and Luciano Pavarotti in 1978.

Among other performances, the Bavarian State Opera presented a new production of the work in the original French version in 2016, with Elīna Garanča, tenor Matthew Polenzani and Mariusz Kwiecień in the leading roles.


(The Favourite)


Opera in four acts by Gaetano Donizetti
to a French-language libretto by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz,
based on the play Le comte de Comminges by Baculard d'Arnaud.


Léonor de Guzman (Leonora di Gusmann)    
Fernand (Fernando)
Alphonse XI,
King of Castile
Balthazar (Baldassare), superior to the convent of Saint James of Compostela
Don Gaspar, officer of the king
Inès (Inez), confidante to Léonor 
A lord
Lords and ladies of the court, a maiden, pages, guards, monks of the Order of Saint James of Compostela, pilgrims


Time: 1340
Place:  Royaume de Castille

Premiere Cast, 2 December 1840


Léonor de Guzman:

Mezzo-soprano. She is the King's ‘favourite’—he wants to divorce the Queen and marry her. She lives on the Island of Léon with her confidante, Inès. To the island comes Fernand, who has fallen in love with her without knowing who she is. He has left his monastery to follow her. She will not marry him under false pretences, but her efforts to tell him the truth fail. After their wedding his father, the Abbot Balthazar, tells him that his new wife was the King's mistress. Fernand flees to the monastery. Léonor, sick and dying, disguises herself as a novice and goes to see him one last time. They declare their love for each other and she dies at his feet. Aria: Ô mon Fernand (‘O my Fernand’). Created (1840) by Rosine Stoltz.

LA FAVORITE: Elīna Garanča sings „O mon Fernand“

It is true then, oh heavens! You... Fernando 
Are to be Leonora's husband!
All this I'm told, and yet my spirit is still doubtful
Of this unexpected joy! Oh Heavens! Marry him?
Oh, what unbearable shame! As a dowry to the brave man...
I will bring him dishonour, no, never;  If he should ever
Abhor me, I'll fly, he will know in a short time
This woman that he adores so.

Oh, my Fernando! Throne of the earth,
I would have given my heart to possess you,
But my pure love is like a pardon,
And yet I am damned, alas! It is a terrifying horror.

The truth shall be known, and in your extreme contempt
I will face the worst penalty possible;
If you are rightly displeased, then I will be a mockery
Strike me, dear Heaven, with your lightning.

Come, death, what is stopping you?
My pain is written in the skies,
Come, she is a festival,
An altar spread with flowers.

The grave is already opening for me;
The black veil is already covering me;
Ah! The sad bride,
Damned, desperate,
She will not have forgiveness in heaven.

Eleanor de Guzman

Eleanor de Guzman born Leonor Núñez de Guzmán Ponce de León and later on, Vda. De de Velasco (1310–1351) was a Castilian noblewoman and long-term mistress to Alfonso XI of Castile. She was the mother of King Henry II of Castile.

Eleanor was the daughter of nobleman Pedro Núñez de Guzmán and his wife, Beatriz Ponce de León, a great-granddaughter of King Alfonso IX of León. Her parents married Eleanor off as a young girl to Juan de Velasco.


Eleanor's husband died in 1328, at twenty years old. Soon thereafter, in Seville she met King Alfonso XI. He was so impressed by her beauty that he made her his mistress. He preferred Eleanor to his wife Maria of Portugal, daughter of Alfonso IV of Portugal, whom he married in 1328. After Maria's son and heir, the future Peter of Castile, was born in 1334, Alfonso left Maria and lived with Eleanor instead. The humiliated queen resented her unfaithful husband and asked him to cease his public displays of preference for his mistress. The king ignored his wife's pleas, and gave Eleanor Huelva, Tordesillas, and Medina-Sidonia in addition to other holdings. He also established Eleanor's household in Seville where she was allowed to hear political matters. The court was increasingly troubled by Alfonso's behavior and as a result, the Pope intervened by forcing Portugal to invade Castile.

The King died on 27 March 1350 and was succeeded by his heir Peter and his wife Maria who served as regent. Maria had not forgotten the myriad slights that she had endured because of her husband's love for his mistress. Thirsting for revenge, Maria imprisoned Eleanor, and later ordered the execution of her rival in 1351 in the Arab castle of Abderrahman III of Talavera de la Reina. Eleanor's death only exacerbated the rift within the royal family. Eleanor's son Henry and Maria's son Peter continued to fight one another for control of Castile. Henry eventually won and was crowned King of Castile.

Pedro Alfonso, 1st Lord of Aguilar de Campoo (1330–1338)
Juana Alfonso, 1st Lady of Trastámara (born 1330)
Sancho Alfonso, 1st Lord of Ledesma (1331–1343)
Henry II of Castile (1334–1379)
Fadrique Alfonso, Master of the Order of Santiago and 1st Lord of Haro (1334–1358)
Fernando Alfonso, 2nd Lord of Ledesma
Tello Alfonso, 1st Lord of Aguilar de Campoo (1337–1370)
Juan Alfonso, 1st Lord of Badajoz and Jerez de la Frontera (1341–1359)
Sancho Alfonso, 1st Count of Alburquerque (1342–1374)
Pedro Alfonso (1345–1359)

Eleanor was a common ancestor to the Catholic Monarchs. Three of Eleanor's sons, Henry II of Castile, Fadrique Alfonso and Sancho Alfonso, 1st Count of Alburquerque were ancestors of Ferdinand II of Aragon. In addition, Isabella I of Castile, wife of Ferdinand II of Aragon was descended from both Eleanor and Maria, as follows: Henry II of Castile's grandson, Henry III of Castile, married Peter of Castile's granddaughter, Catherine of Lancaster; their son, John II of Castile, was the father of Isabella I of Castile.

Guzmán bidding farewell to her son Fadrique Alfonso before her execution


Tenor. A young novice in the monastery where his father, Balthazar, is the abbot. He sees and falls in love with a woman, not knowing she is the ‘favourite’ of the King. He leaves the monastery and goes to the Island of Léon, where he meets Léonor, who will not tell him of her true position. He receives the King's consent to marry her, but after the wedding his father tells him the truth about his new wife. He returns to the monastery. As he is about to take holy orders, Léonor, now very ill, comes to see him for the last time. They confess their love for each other and she dies at his feet. Arias: Oui, ta voix m'inspire (‘Yes, your voice inspires me’); Ange si pure (‘Angel so pure’). Created (1840) by Gilbert‐Louis Duprez.

Ramon Vargas - Ange si pur ( La Favorite - Gaetano Donizetti )

La maîtresse du roi!... Dans l'abîme creusé,
Sous un piège infernal ma gloire est engloutie,
et de mon triste cour l'espérance est sortie
ainsi que d'un vase brisé.
Ange si pur, que dans un songe
j'ai cru trouver, vous que j'aimais!
Avec l'espoir, triste mensonge,
envolez-vous, et pour jamais!
En moi, pour l'amour d'une femme
de Dieu l'amour avait faibli;
Pitié! je t'ai rendu mon âme,
Pitié! Seigneur, rends-moi l'oubli!
Ange si pur, que dans un songe
j'ai cru trouver, vous que j'aimais!
Avec l'espoir, triste mensonge,
envolez-vous et pour jamais!

Alphonse XI, King of Castile

Baritone. He wants to divorce his wife and marry his mistress Léonore, who is also loved by Fernand. The King is threatened with excommunication if he divorces, and therefore agrees to Fernand marrying Léonore. Aria: Léonore, viens, j'abandonne (‘Come, Leonore, before thee kneeling’). Created (1840) by Paul Barroilhet.

Carlos Alvrarez - Leonor! Viens j'abandonne... Leonor. Mon amour ( La Favorite - Donizetti )

Léonor! Viens, j'abandonne
dieu, mon peuple avec mon trône;
que ton cour à moi se donne!
Rien par moi n'est regretté,
si pour ciel et pour couronne
il me reste ta beauté.
Léonor! Mon amour brave
l'univers et Dieu pour toi;
à tes pieds, je suis esclave,
mais l'amant se relève roi!
Rien ne peut finir l'ivresse
de mes jours liés aux tiens;
pour toujours, belle maîtresse,
pour toujours tu m'appartiens.
à don Gaspar, qui entre
Pour la fête, préviens
toute ma cour.

Alfonso XI of Castile

Alfonso XI of Castile (13 August 1311 – 26/27 March 1350), called the Avenger (el Justiciero), was the king of Castile, León and Galicia. He was the son of Ferdinand IV of Castile and his wife Constance of Portugal. Upon his father's death in 1312, several disputes ensued over who would hold regency, which were resolved in 1313.


Once Alfonso was declared adult in 1325, he began a reign that would serve to strengthen royal power. His achievements include solving the problems of the Gibraltar Strait and the conquest of Algeciras.

Alfonso XI, king of Leon and Castile 


Bass. Superior of the Monastery of St James. Father of Fernand, a novice in the monastery. Balthazar goes to see the King with an excommunication order from the Pope. He tells Fernand of Léonor's position as the King's favourite. Created ( 1840 ) by Nicolas-Prosper Levasseur.


Soprano. Confidante of Léonor, mistress of the King. Aria (with chorus): Rayons dorés (‘Bright sunbeams’). Created ( 1840 ) by Mlle Elian.

Rayons dorés, tiède zéphyre,
de fleurs parez ce doux séjour,
heureux rivage qui respire
la paix, le plaisir et l'amour.

Nous que protège sa tendresse,
esclaves, par nos soins discrets,
de notre belle maîtresse
sachons payer les bienfaits.
Silence! Silence!
La mer est belle et l'air est doux.
C'est la nacelle qui s'avance;
voyez, là-bas... la voyez-vous?

Doux zéphyr, sois lui fidèle,
pour conduire sa nacelle
aux bords où l'amour l'appelle,
à la voile sois léger;
et ravis sur ton passage,
pour embaumer cette plage,
le parfum qui se dégage
du jasmin, de l'oranger.

Cristina Obregon - Rayons dores... Doux zephyr ( La Favorite - Gaetano Donizetti )
Aria & cabaletta of Inez
Conductor - Richard Bonynge
Orchestra - Gran Teatro del Liceo
Chorus - Gran Teatro del Liceo



A love triangle involving the King of Castile, Alfonso XI, his mistress ('the favourite') Leonora, and her lover Fernando, the story unfolds against the background of the Moorish invasions of Spain and power struggles between church and state.


Scene 1


In the Monastery of St James, the monks are making their way to worship. Superior Balthazar (bass), father of the Queen of Castile, enters with Fernand (tenor). Balthazar knows that Fernand is preoccupied by something. Fernand confesses that he has fallen in love with a beautiful, but as yet unknown, lady. His faith in God remains, but he wishes to leave the monastery in search of her. Balthazar angrily sends Fernand out of the monastery, warning him of the dangers of the outside world. He predicts that Fernand will one day return to the cloisters, a disappointed if wiser man.

Scene 2

Fernand has found his lady, Léonor (mezzo-soprano), declared his love and received it in return, but he is still unaware of her real identity. She has arranged to meet him on the island of Leon, to which he is brought blindfolded by boat. He is met by Inès (soprano), her companion, who impresses upon him the need for secrecy. Léonor enters. She tells him that they can never marry and that they must not meet again, but nevertheless hands him a document to help him in his future. Shortly afterwards the arrival of the King is announced and Léonor leaves. Fernand is left to speculate about her elevated social position. Reading the document she has left him, he finds a commission in the army — an opportunity for advancement.


Alfonse (baritone) has defeated the Moors and taken Alcazar. In conversation with the courtier Don Gaspar (tenor), the King expresses his pleasure at Fernand's bravery. Alone, the King expresses his love for Léonor and his desire to divorce the Queen and marry her. He realizes that this will provoke the opposition of his powerful father-in-law Balthazar who is ultimately backed by the Pope. Léonor enters and expresses her anguish at remaining his mistress rather than his Queen. The King suspects that he is losing her affection. Don Gaspar enters with news that a letter has been discovered revealing that Léonor has a lover. She makes no denial, but at that moment Balthazar enters intent on forcing the King to abandon his plans for the royal divorce.


Alfonse is to honour Fernand for his role in the war. He asks Fernand what reward he would like and Fernand asks to marry the woman who has inspired him in his bravery. Alfonse asks who she is and Fernand points to Léonor. The King is astonished to learn that Fernand is his successful rival. In an abrupt change of mind, he orders Fernand and Léonor to marry within one hour. Léonor is left with mixed feelings of apprehension and delight. She decides that Fernand must be informed about her past and sends Inès to him. However, unknown to Léonor, Inès is arrested before she can see him. Fernand only learns the truth after the wedding ceremony. Considering himself dishonoured by the King he breaks his sword, leaves Léonor and entrusts himself to Balthazar.


Balthazar's daughter, the Queen, has died of jealousy and grief, and her body has been sent to him at the Monastery of St James. Prayers are being said for her repose. Fernand is preparing to enter his new religious life. Léonor enters in a state of exhaustion and faints before the cross. At first Fernand rejects her, but eventually moved by her love and sincerity, he is willing to give himself to her again, but it is too late, Léonor collapses once more and dies in his arms.

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