Donizetti: La Favorite / Aldrich, Shi, Tezier, Allemandi, Toulouse
Broussard has the rainbow-dressed, frilly courtiers move at a snail’s pace, which adds a nice creepiness to the proceedings, and Alphonse’s clear refusal to cringe at the priest Balthazar’s warning and malediction near the end of Act 2 (Act 1 in this production) by kissing Léonor brutally until they’re both on the ground is very effective. Precisely why, in the last act, Fernand has a modern suitcase that glows gold in the dark is anyone’s guess–as is Léonor’s last-act costume, which, though indescribable, makes her look like a poorly wrapped gift. She doesn’t die at the end, by the way; she merely walks backward through the arches and fades into the distance. Meaning?
The sincerity of the cast and the singing make up for any eccentricities or deficiencies in the direction or production. As Léonor, mezzo Kate Aldrich is wonderful, throwing herself into the role of the misused “favorite” of the King with gusto, singing with warm but exciting tone. The voice is even throughout, and after a couple of moments of wavering pitch early on, her big Act 3 aria is the showpiece it should be, and her final-act duet with Fernand is deeply moving.
Chinese tenor Yijie Shi, having learned the role in a few weeks when the designated tenor cancelled, is remarkable. He looks anywhere between 15 and 20 years of age, but the voice is splendid–ringing, pure, easily produced, used with nuance and superb attention to the text. His high notes are true and fearless. He acts as well as he can–he looks genuinely horrified and bruised, not to mention confused, a good deal of the time–and it would be wonderful if his career continued healthily on this path: he had been singing mostly Rossini prior to this engagement, and Fernand is not a light role. (Aldrich was a substitute for the tedious Sophie Koch, so we win all around.)
Ludovic Tézier is a splendid Alphonse–nasty, selfish, and singing with big, rounded tone. As Balthazar, the priest who supposedly gives comfort and threatens damnation almost simultaneously, Giovanni Furlanetto doesn’t quite have the voice–the tone itself lacks authority and he lacks the sepulchral low notes required for the part. The others in the cast are excellent. Chorus and orchestra sing and play wonderfully for Antonello Allemandi, who, while clearly knowing the score, occasionally allows the niceties in late-Donizetti to go by unspotted in favor of a razzmatazz reading. It’s exciting, however, and few will complain.
The only competition on video is a 1953 film starring Sophia Loren (I don’t know who does the singing, but I also don’t care) and a “private” 1971 production from Japan, in Italian, somewhat cut and visually murky, starring a blazing Fiorenza Cossotto and Alfredo Kraus, which is in a different category, really. It’s a good thing this new DVD is as good as it is–it fills a gap. The only bonus is a cast gallery and the booklet lacks track listings and timings. Subtitles are in European languages and Korean, Chinese, and Japanese.
-- Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Catalog Number: OA 1166D
Label: Opus Arte
Composer: Gaetano Donizetti
Conductor: Antonello Allemandi
Orchestra/Ensemble: Toulouse Capitole Chorus, Toulouse Capitole Orchestra
Performer: Alain Gabriel, Giovanni Furlanetto, Kate Aldrich, Ludovic Tézier, Marie-bénédicte Souquet, Yijie Shi