Mafalda Favero enrolled at the Bologna Conservatory when she was seventeen; here she studied singing with Alessandro Vezzani and also attracted the attention of the composer Franco Alfano. At Cremona in 1925, under the name of Maria Bianchi, she substituted for another singer at short notice as Lola / Cavalleria rusticana; but her formal operatic stage debut took place in 1927 at the Teatro Regio, Parma as Liù / Turandot, followed by Elsa / Lohengrin and Margherita in Boito’s Mefistofele.
In 1928 Favero was engaged by Toscanini to sing Eva in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at La Scala, Milan in the production mounted to mark the thirtieth anniversary of his principal conductorship there. She sang at La Scala continuously until 1949 in a considerable variety of roles, being especially identified with the lyric repertoire with an emphasis upon verismo roles. These she sang with great emotional identification, to her ultimate vocal cost as she herself acknowledged. Notable parts included Manon / Manon Lescaut, Magda / La rondine, Marguerite / Faust, Mimì / La Bohème, Suzel / L’amico Fritz and Violetta / La traviata, as well as Liù and Margherita and the title roles in Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, Leoncavallo’s Zazà, Massenet’s Thaïs and Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Iris. In the lighter vocal repertoire, Favero sang Zerlina / Don Giovanni, Adina / L’elisir d’amore, Carolina / Il matrimonio segreto, Juliette / Roméo et Juliette, Nedda / Pagliacci, Norina / Don Pasquale, Susanna / Le nozze di Figaro and the title part in Martha. She took part in a number of first performances, including Lattuada’s Le preziose ridicole (1929, Milan), Alfano’s L’ultimo Lord (1930, Naples), Mascagni’s Pinotta (1932, San Remo), Zandonai’s La farsa amorosa (1933, Rome), Wolf-Ferrari’s two operas Il campiello (1936, Milan) and La dama boba (1939, Milan) and Mario Persico’s La locandiera (1941, Rome).
Guest appearances by Favero between 1937 and 1939 included Verona (1937–1939), Munich and Berlin (1937, with the La Scala company) and Rio de Janeiro (1939). At Covent Garden, London in the 1937 Coronation season, she sang Liù (opposite Dame Eva Turner’s Turandot with Barbirolli conducting) and Norina; she returned in 1939 to repeat Liù and was noted as an attractive Zerlina under Beecham. Favero’s American debut came in 1938 in San Francisco as Zerlina, followed by Martha, Mimì and Norina. In November of that year she made her only appearances at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, singing Mimì opposite Jussi Björling in just two performances.
After World War II Favero took part in the reopening concert of La Scala, singing the third act of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut with Toscanini conducting. Her farewell performances were given in 1949, at La Scala in Milhaud’s Le Pauvre Matelot and at Piacenza as Massenet’s Manon.
Favero was most concerned with dramatic expression in her performances, commenting: ‘…emotion was the most vital aspect of any heroine I portrayed.’ As a result her voice suffered an earlier decline than might have been expected. Nonetheless with her generous use of vibrato she created vocal realizations of unusual completeness. Her beautiful appearance and affecting dramatic gifts made a great impression on stage, and she possessed the ability to generate great emotional intensity. Unusually complete opera recordings from both the beginning and end of her career exist, notably an account of Mefistofele for Columbia under Molajoli (1931) and a post-war recording of Adriana Lecouvreur, in addition to recordings of many arias and duets. She considered her singing of ‘Flammen, perdonami!’ from Mascagni’s Lodoletta to be the recording which she herself loved the most, ‘not for the voice, but for the emotion that I put into the aria at that recording session’. Certainly it is one of the central documents of the verismo repertoire.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).
Role: Classical Artist