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La Favorite Shines with Ganassi and Giordani

San Francisco
War Memorial Opera House
09/24/1999 -  and30, September, 5, 10, 13 and 16 October 1999
Gaetano Donizetti: La Favorite
Sonia Ganassi (Léonor de Guzman), Marcello Giordani (Fernand), Vladimir Chernov (Alphonse XI), Kevin J. Langan (Balthazar), Tammy Jenkins (Inès), Todd Greer (Don Gaspar), Richard Walker (a knight)
Orchestra and Chorus of the San Francisco Opera, Marco Armiliato, conductor
Colin Graham, Stage Director

San Francisco Opera’s new production of Donizetti’s La Favorite was both a company premiere and a welcome return of the work to the War Memorial Opera House. The work has been presented here once before in 1973 but in the more commonly performed Italian version. This time around, the composer’s original French version was used including much of the ballet music in the second act.

While this production did not get the kind of lavish attention that the company’s Louise (running concurrently), the production directed by Colin Graham with sets by John Coyne and costumes by Jane Greenwood was effective in its simplicity. A large raked platform served as the principal playing area with six statues (presumably of saints) set high on poles looked down on the action from the sides. Simple set pieces and projections served as settings and the scene shifts were therefore handled swiftly and smoothly.

Greenwood’s handsome costumes gave the production a rich period look but were in keeping with the rest of the restrained approach to the work which kept the focus on the story and the music.

In her company debut, mezzo-soprano Sonia Ganassi had no problem keeping the focus on her while on stage. She has a simple, natural stage presence and easy grace that suits both Donizetti’s score and her elegant vocal style. Her voice has a full rich tone in the lower and middle registers with a clear, focused top and a smooth transition between registers. In "O mon Fernand", the wedding of musical expression and emotional intention provided a deeply satisfying, richly rewarding experience and typical of the thoughtful, intelligent approach Ganassi used throughout the opera.

Marcello Giordani continues to go from strength to strength with each successive appearance with the San Francisco Opera. His clear, ringing tenor with its idiomatic, expressive timbre grew in depth and warmth as the performance progressed. By the time he sang "Ange si pur, que dans un songe" in the last act, Giordani was in full command and delivered an heart-rending, vocally exemplary performance. Giordani also cuts a handsome, striking figure on stage, but does not have the natural ease and acting instincts of his leading lady.

As the King of Castille, Alphonse XI, Vladimir Chernov also cut a striking figure and capably commands the scene, striding on with authority and confidence that befits the role. Vocally he was somewhat less suitable, rarely singing below a forte and with wooden, blunt phrasing. Chernov’s baritone can be rich and sonorous, but he sounded uncomfortable with the role, his tone shallow and pushed.

Kevin J. Langan gave a steady, reliable performance as Balthazar, his rounded, focused tones and noble, graceful phrasing suitable bel canto in style. But his character remained a cipher. Tammy Jenkins enlived the role of Inès with impassioned energy and clear, sweet singing.

Conductor Marco Armiliato steadily improved as the performance progressed. After a shapeless prelude to the first act, he began shaping with ever-more authority the musical structure of the opera. By the time the of the concerted finales to the second and third acts (which were not separated by an intermission in this production), he was in full command however and shaped them with dramatic intensity.

This new La Favorite served as a fitting vehicle for Ganassi’s company debut as well as to further display Giordani’s continuing growth as an artist. But it also served to show the dramatic viability of the bel canto repertory when taken seriously, cast intelligently, and staged sensitively.

Kelly Snyder



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