Monday, February 05, 2007

La Favorite

I am at the Wiener Staatsoper to see Donizetti´s La Favorite.

It is only recently that women have broken out of their categories. Before that there were good girls and bad girls, angels and whores. It makes a whole opera plot that a whore is mistaken for an angel. You can't always tell, you know.

In opera angels are sopranos and whores are mezzos. We realize there are exceptions, such as Manon, but generally whores are mezzos. Carmen, Dalila, Maddalena, and Leonor in Donizetti´s La Favorite. She is the king's mistress, and when Fernand falls for her, she refuses to tell who she is. She deliberately lets him think his whore is an angel.

The opera has a simple beginning--a priest who has not taken his final vows falls for one of his parishioners--and a simple ending--she saves him from hell by dying. In the middle it gets pretty complicated. The king wants to divorce his wife to marry his mistress in spite of the pope's opposition. Fernand also wants her, and when the king promises to grant him any wish, Fernand wishes for Leonor. The courtiers still consider her a whore and tell Fernand now that it is too late and he has married her that he has lost his honor. From there everything just goes to hell.

We could ponder social ostracism for a while, the past's most certain method of keeping people in line.

Or we could ponder Donizetti, the man between Rossini and Verdi. Donizetti is at the beginning of the tenor as romantic lead. Rossini's women who play men are gone and Mozart's lyric tenor now has to be stronger, more melodramatic while still carrying a bit of coloratura. He has heavier parts to carry. Jose Bros as Fernand is light but not as light as Florez. He has a forceful high C.

I wonder to myself if Leonor has to be this kind of heavy Verdi mezzo as represented by Luciana D'Intino or if she might perhaps be more like a Rossini mezzo. In Verdi she would be excellent.

This plot with straying priests did not pass the censors in 19th century Vienna either.

No comments: