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Verdi's "La forza del destino" vocally wonderful, visually vibrant

Verdi's "La forza del destino" vocally wonderful, visually vibrant

Giuseppe Verdi was worried about "all those dead bodies" in his "La forza del destino." On Saturday, there weren't enough for some in the audience.
"Verdi's assassins," yelled someone in the audience after a particularly jarring scene. He and others booing the performance were clearly calling for the head of producer David Pountney and others responsible for the new production of "La forza" for savaging the Italian maestro with their all-too-free interpretation of his opera classic.
True, some of the settings in this Vienna State Opera production were more "Stagecoach" than opera. Lightly clad cowgirls hefting six-guns were stand-ins for the camp followers of the soldiers in the Verdi opera. Tableaux of military life were turned into grisly portraits of Hell with a touch of Bosch, mixed with T.S. Eliot.
And Pountney's skeptical view of religion made the final moments of the hero's reconciliation with God, Heaven and the death of his beloved Leonora a hard sell.
Adding to difficulties is that even without Pountney, this opera calls for an indulgent audience ready to accept a plot almost as cliche as the notion of "it ain't over till the fat lady sings."
Don Alvaro, the hero, is caught in the bedroom of Leonora by her father. As he drops his pistol in submission it goes off, killing the elderly nobleman and setting into notion the "power of destiny" that ultimately leads to two more deaths; that of Leonora's brother by the hero and of Leonora herself, killed by her brother literally as he expires from the sword wound inflicted by Alvaro.
Originally the hero himself was to commit suicide. Perhaps fearful of the prospect of nobody left to take a curtain call, Verdi himself wrote co-librettist Maria Piave: "We need to think about the ending and find some way to avoid all those dead bodies."
So in the version performed Saturday, Alvaro remains alive and redeemed, though deeply depressed. The fact that the audience was spared that condition Saturday was due less to the controversial production and more to the excellence of the musical performances both on stage and in the pit.
No stranger to the score, conductor Zubin Mehta owned the music from the first throbbing chords of the overture to the "dying" notes of this performance. Under his baton, the violin section sounded as if one powerful instrument. His horns packed more oomph than any brass band. And his woodwinds were tremulous, breathy and vulnerable, reflecting the pathos of the action under the spotlights. His cues were perfect, his pauses powerful.
The principals also rose to the musical challenge. Nina Stemme was a wonderful Leonora, with her Wagner-honed heroic soprano the perfect instrument for the vocal athletics called for by Verdi. Her voice was fully rounded, powerful and evocative at all levels. Complementing her sound was her excellent dramatic rendering of the heroine doomed by destiny. Among her highlights on Saturday: "Madre pietosa Vergine." (Holy Mother hear my prayer.)
The sporadic boos mixed with the bravos for Salvatore Licitra were undeserved. His warm and broad tenor was a lovely match for Stemme, making him a thoroughly enjoyable Alvaro.
But the best male role of the evening was given by Carlos Alvarez. As Don Carlo, Leonora's vengeful brother, his rich and vibrant baritone, coupled with a menacing and possessed stage presence, had all eyes and ears focused on him, at times even when he was not at center stage.
Also good: the choir, under Thomas Lang; Alastair Miles as Leonora's father and the father superior; Tiziano Bracci as Melitone, the friar, and Nadia Krasteva as Preziosilla, the camp fortuneteller who in Pountney's version turns into a pistol-packing, hotpants-wearing Annie Oakley.
Saturday's performance was a mix of obsession, revenge, love and madness on stage; hatred from some audience members incensed with the production, and redemption, as in the healing power of wonderful music on stage and in the pit.
All in all, a powerful night at the opera.
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http://www.staatsoper.at


Updated : 2021-06-13 16:03 GMT+08:00