La favorite (The Favorite) is an opera in five acts by Gaetano Donizetti to a French libretto by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz, based on the play Le comte de Comminges by Baculard d'Arnaud. It premiered on 2 December 1840 at the Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique, Paris.
An Italian version of the opera was performed in Padua under the title of Leonora di Guzman in 1842, and at La Scala as Elda in 1843. Donizetti himself was not involved in these productions, however the opera is now more commonly given in Italian rather than French, under the title of La favorita.
Synopsis of La favorita (Italian)
The setting is early 14th-century Spain. 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.
Alfonso (baritone) has defeated the Moors and taken Alcazar. In conversation with the courtier Don Gasparo (tenor), the King expresses his pleasure at Fernando's bravery. Alone, the King expresses his love for Leonora and his desire to divorce the Queen and marry her. He realizes that this will provoke the opposition of his powerful father-in-law Baldassare who is ultimately backed by the Pope. Leonora enters and expresses her anguish at remaining his mistress rather than his Queen. The King suspects that he is losing her affection. Don Gasparo enters with news that a letter has been discovered revealing that Leonora has a lover. She makes no denial, but at that moment Baldassare enters intent on forcing the King to abandon his plans for the royal divorce.
Alfonso is to honour Fernando for his role in the war. He asks Fernando what reward he would like and Fernando asks to marry the woman who has inspired him in his bravery. Alfonso asks who she is and Fernando points to Leonora. The King is astonished to learn that Fernando is his successful rival. In an abrupt change of mind, he orders Fernando and Leonora to marry within one hour. Leonora is left with mixed feelings of apprehension and delight. She decides that Fernando must be informed about her past and sends Inez to him. However, unknown to Leonora, Inez is arrested before she can see him. Fernando only learns the truth after the wedding ceremony. Considering himself dishonoured by the King he breaks his sword, leaves Leonora and entrusts himself to Baldassarre.
Baldassare'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. Fernando is preparing to enter his new religious life. Leonora enters in a state of exhaustion and faints before the cross. At first Fernando rejects her, but eventually moved by her love and sincerity, he is willing to give himself to her once more, but it is too late, Leonora collapses once more and dies in his arms.
This synopsis by Simon Holledge, first published on Opera japonica, appears here by permission.