Schmopera, Mar 29, 2019
Verdi: La forza del destino, London, ab 21. März 2019
THE POWERS OF FATE & GREAT SINGING: LA FORZA DEL DESTINO
It is undoubted that Verdi is one of the greatest operatic composers of all
time and whose works remain beloved by many. His 1869 revised version La
forza del destino is one of his greatest. It offers a level complexity and
maturity not present in some of his earlier works that hints at what is to
come with master-works like Don Carlo, Otello, and Falstaff.
Verdi tackles what is perhaps one of the biggest themes in opera; fate. The
overbearing, all-consuming character in this opera. He also raises questions
about politics, nationalism, racism, and religiosity.
With so many
grand, overarching themes, the story at its core remains remarkably
straightforward. Leonora and Alvaro are in love but her father, the Marquis
will not allow her to marry below her station. In a failed attempt to elope,
the Marquis is accidentally killed by Alvaro. The couple flee the pursuit of
Leonora’s vengeance-seeking brother Carlo and go into hiding. They are
separated for years, each assuming the other is dead until fate brings the
three together once more when Alvaro mortally wounds Carlo in a duel. Carlo
then kills Leonora, finally avenging his father and Leonora dies in Alvaro’s
arms, leaving him alone once more.
The heavy weight of destiny can be
felt throughout the opera as we move through the intervening years. It is
written into Verdi’s dark and ponderous music. Time unkind to the ill-fated
lovers and they both find their own way to the church, committing themselves
to lives of penance and hermitage. Their decades-long suffering before their
tragic end, makes it all the more heartbreaking.
This was a fairly
standard production with a bit of a modern twist from designer Christian
Schmidt, directed by Christof Loy. A star-studded production, it is
currently enjoying a near sold out run at the Royal Opera. I did however
question some of the aesthetic choices and found that the production
contained several unforgivable inconsistencies.
The staged overture
perfectly sets up the the story and is framed so well within the context of
the score. We are presented with what appears to be a standard period piece
but as the opera goes on, it appears that time a place is irrelevant. There
is a fairly specific aesthetic to the stage design which draws inspiration
from classic Italian cinema, devotional spaces, and the grim landscape of
war, but there was a real lack in consistency in the costuming which seemed
to be an unsettling patchwork of dress from across many ages. I know that
when a design team makes a choice like this, it is intentional but if I
can’t discern the reason for it, it becomes a distracting inconvenience.
The production was very intelligently cast, a cash cow for the season at
the Royal Opera. I have had the opportunity to see a few world-famous
singers on stage, but it is very rare thing for a singer to draw a
perceptible ripple from the audience. This is apparently what it is like to
see Jonas Kaufmann live to a sold-out house. Despite recent illness, his
voice is sounding healthy. He has a glorious, infectious presence on stage.
He is intuitive in his acting and you can feel in a really real way, the joy
he has for singing. What I like about Kaufmann is that he takes risks with
his voice, risks that are not always successful but I appreciate that when
he could just plant himself on stage and give us the full force of his
voice, he instead shapes the text with the sensitivity of a German lied. It
is a rare and wonderful thing to hear on a stage like this.
soprano Liudmyla Monastryrska takes on the role of Leonora and gives a
performance that felt very confident and effortless. She was able to
perfectly balance strong conviction with pity and relatability. No stranger
to the leading ladies of Verdi, having performed a number of them at this
point in her career, her voice was lush and vibrant. Leonora was a suitable
and comfortable fit for her.
Baritone Ludovic Tézier in the role of
Don Carlo had one of the most remarkable voices I’ve heard, yet I felt that
there was something lacking in his performance. He seemed to be more focused
on producing a beautiful sound that the subtle complexities of his
character. His motivations were weak, making his role as the villain a
little implausible and the intention was missing from his eyes. For me, a
beautiful voice is simply not enough to carry a role. In quite the opposite
way, mezzo soprano Veronica Simeoni disappointed me in the role of
Preziosilla. Vocally, she was the weakest link in a cast that was overall at
a very high standard of performance, but I thought she was a very
intelligent and accomplished actress. Unfortunately, though, without the
voice to match, it was not enough to draw me into her performance.
Two performances of note were bass Ferruccio Furlanetto as Padre Guardiano
and baritone Alessandro Corbelli as Fra Melitone. The two made a wonderful
comedic pair with Furlanetto the straight man to Corbelli’s fool. Corbelli
in particular seemed to be the most naturalistic in his character though he
did have the advantage of being an exaggerated comedic character. He was
everything that I hope to see on stage; a great voice that lends itself to a
performance motivated by character.
There is no denying that this
opera contains some of Verdi’s most beautiful and accomplished writing. It
is a work that carries the maturity and sensitivity of a man who is now well
into middle age. It is harmonically ambitious and often surprising. It is
brooding, self-reflective, and intimate. Verdi is known for his epic,
extensive opera choruses but there is a sensitivity with which he approached
the choral writing in this piece that causes everything that came before to
pale in comparison.
This production was an acceptable and
straightforward telling of this beloved opera. It contained all of the
elements I have come to expect and left me feeling satisfied and fulfilled.
But it is the singing that will remembered as the details of the production
begin to fade. It was the characters in relationship to one another that
making this such an emotionally charged and memorable experience.