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La favorite (The Favorite, or as it is most commonly known by its Italian title today: La favorita) is an opera in four 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 in Paris, Francemarker.

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. Though Donizetti himself was not involved in these productions, the opera is now more commonly given in Italian rather than French.

Donizetti wrote the entire final act in three to four hours, with the exception of the Cavatina and a part of a duet, which were added at the rehearsal stage.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 2 December 1840
(Conductor: François Antoine Habeneck)
Leonor de Guzmán (Leonora di Gusmann) mezzo-soprano Rosine Stoltz
Inés (Inez) soprano Elian
Fernand (Fernando) tenor Gilbert Louis Duprez
Alphonse XI, King of Castille baritone Paul Barroilhet
Balthazar (Baldassare) bass Nicolas Levasseur
Don Gaspar, officer of the king tenor Pierre François Wartel
A lord tenor Molinier
Mayor, lords and ladies of the court, pages, guards, monks of Order of Saint James of Compostela


Time: Early 14th-century Spain.
Place: 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.

Act 1

Scene 1

In the Monastery of St Jamesmarker, the monks are making their way to worship. Superior Baldassare (bass), father of the Queen of Castile, enters with Fernando (tenor). Baldassare knows that Fernando is preoccupied by something. Fernando confesses that he has fallen in love with a beautiful, but as yet unknown, lady. His faith in God remains, but he wishes to leave the monastery in search of her. Baldassarre angrily sends Fernando out of the monastery, warning him of the dangers of the outside world. He predicts that Fernando will one day return to the cloisters, a disappointed if wiser man.

Scene 2

Fernando has found his lady, Leonora (mezzo-soprano), declared his love and received it in return, but he is still unaware of her real identity. She has arranged to meet him on the island of Leon, to which he is brought blindfolded by boat. He is met by Inez (soprano), her companion, who impresses him with the need for secrecy. Leonora enters. She tells him that they can never marry and that they must not meet again, but nevertheless hands him a document to help him in his future. Shortly afterwards the arrival of the King is announced and Leonora leaves. Fernando is left to speculate about her elevated social position. Reading the document she has left him, he finds a commission in the army - an opportunity for advancement.

Act 2

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.

Act 3

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.

Act 4

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.


In 1840, Richard Wagner arranged the work for solo piano.


  1. Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed, 1954, Eric Blom, ed.
  2. AmadeusOnline Almanacco
  3. The synopsis by Simon Holledge was first published at Opera japonica and appears here by permission.


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