On April 14, David Clenny led his West Side Opera Society in a thoroughly bel canto account of relative rarity “La Favorita” (“La Favorite,” 1840), by Gaetano Donizetti, at Trinity Lutheran Church, on West 100th Street. There were four concert performances with piano, with some roles double cast, between April 7 and 15, benefiting the Trinity Youth Shelter, for homeless LGBTQ youth, and the third of these is discussed here.
The happy raison d’être for the revival undoubtedly was the availability of mezzo-soprano Galina Ivannikova to play Leonora de Gusman, favorite, or mistress, of King Alfonso XI of Castile, in 14th century Spain. Leonora’s gran scena does not come until the third of four acts, but Ivannikova had already more than made her considerable mark in the earlier duets and major ensembles. In the big aria, Ivannikova lavished rich, dark velvety tone on “O mio Fernando,” concluding the haunting cavatina with a high B, and followed it with an embellished, show-stopping “Scritto in cielo,” crowning the powerhouse cabaletta with a formidable high C.
Ivannikova and Samuel Varhan, as Fernando, made sparks fly in the fiery first act duet “Ah, mio bene! Ah, mio bene! … Fia vero? Lasciarti!,” capped with their high C, and ended the opera with a moving “Pietoso al par di Numi … Vieni, ah vien! Io m’abbandono,” Leonora’s death scene.
As the young monk whose lot is “épouser la mâitresse,/La mâitresse du roi” (to marry the mistress of the King), as Jacques Offenbach’s parody in “La Périchole” puts it, Varhan introduced himself by displaying a graceful high lyric tenor rhapsodizing about “Una vergine, un’angel di Dio” and ending the first scene with a clear high C-sharp. He capped his performance with a heartfelt legato “Spirto gentil,” in the last act.
Baritone Carlos Jimeno, as Alfonso, began with an imposing, ornamented rendition of “Vien, Leonor! A’ piedi tuoi,” and joined Ivannikova for dramatic duet “Quando le soglie paterne varcai,” topped with a double cadenza.
Soprano Kristina Malinauskaite, as Ines, Leonora’s companion, made a star turn of entrance cavatina “Bei raggi lucenti!,” appending not only a bright, high cadenza to it, but also a blazing top note to its cabaletta. Bass Rick Agster, a forbidding Baldassare, both Father Superior of the Monastery of Saint James of Campostella and literal father of Fernando and Alfonso’s ill-starred Queen, opened Act Four with a sonorous “Splendon più belle.” Andy Watt contributed a well-placed lyric tenor to his assignment as Don Gasparo.
The intense finales of the second act, “Ah, paventa il furor … Si, quell labbro infiammato,” and third act, “Sire, io ti deggio … Grazia, O Sire! In questo giorno,” found the company in full, whole-hearted cry.
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