The Times, March 22 2019
Richard Morrison
Verdi: La forza del destino, London, ab 21. März 2019
Opera review: La forza del destino, Royal Opera House
Like the plot, in which the tenor accidentally shoots dead the father of the woman he loves (rarely a helpful move), Verdi’s monster raving loony opera of ill-fate, Catholic guilt and vengeance has itself acquired a reputation for smiting bad luck on performers. And, true to form, rumours abound about the Royal Opera’s new production.

One or other of the stars wouldn’t turn up, it was said (they certainly weren’t all present for the dress rehearsal). They were even whispers that the director himself, Christof Loy, had not been the most assiduous in attending his own rehearsals.

Sometimes, however, the force of destiny throws a bone to humanity, or at least that segment able to afford tickets soaring to £285 in the stalls, and a reputed £3,000 on resale sites. And the truth is that you are unlikely to hear Verdi better sung or played this year. In an opera with so many heartstopping arias and barnstorming choral and orchestral moments, that’s almost all that matters.

Though she’s an unlikely candidate for self-imposed exile to a hermitage, Anna Netrebko is in magnificent, anguished form as Leonora.

The voice has even more power in the lower register these days, but not at the expense of her timbre, which is still voluptuous right up to some exquisite floated high pianissimos. When she delivers Verdi’s radiantly arching motto-phrase – the musical embodiment of divine grace – 2,000 spines tingle.

Jonas Kaufmann can’t match that kind of sumptuous lustre, but I liked the way he matches his characterisation of her lover Alvaro (the chap who’s careless with the pistol) to his rugged and volatile but sometimes uneven vocal delivery. This Alvaro, leaping in through a window in big boots, is a bit of a self-centred and sulky bully.

Interesting twist.

No wonder that Leonora’s brother Carlo, sung with terrific, brooding malevolence by the outstanding Ludovic Tézier, hates him so much.

Their duel, prolonged over two acts, is like two raging bulls vying for a prize turnip.

Around this central trio, on a night when everyone seems turbo-charged, are compelling cameos: Ferruccio Furlanetto’s barrel-voiced Padre, Alessandro Corbelli’s venal Fra Melitone (how Verdi mocked his clerics!), Veronica Simeoni’s spitfire if splashy Preziosilla. There are stunning solos from the pit too – the solo clarinet primus inter pares in an orchestra brilliantly fired up by Antonio Pappano.

And Loy’s staging? Presented in one adaptable set (Christian Schmidt) that opens out to an old-fashioned painted backcloth for the battle, there are childhood flashbacks in the overture, some trendy if inconsequential video projections and an entire vaudeville show, replete with hyperactive acrobats, presumably to keep us from fidgeting in Act III.

No need. This world-class cast is transfixing enough.

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