The JC, March 22, 2019
Stephen Pollard
Verdi: La forza del destino, London, ab 21. März 2019
Singing and music making of the highest calibre ***** Royal Opera House
It is rare that an event so hotly – wildly, even – anticipated as the Royal Opera’s new production of La Forza del Destino lives up to expectations.

The entire run sold out months ago, and tickets are changing hands on eBay for thousands. After last night’s opening, my recommendation is to remortgage your house and pay whatever it takes to get hold of one.

It’s often said that a successful production of Il Trovatore needs only the four best singers in the world. That will now have to apply to La Forza del Destino: on this evidence, on this night, the Royal Opera had just that. Anna Netrebko and Jonas Kaufmann are a rare but electric combination on stage; Jonas Kaufmann and Ludovic Tézier play off each other with an intensity that can barely be imagined; and Ferruccio Furlanetto adds a lustre of nobility. This is singing and music making of the highest calibre.

Integral to it is Sir Tony Pappano, who conducts this sprawling, flawed epic as if it is the greatest Verdi opera.

In truth, La Forza del Destino combines a ludicrous plot (the hero accidentally kills his lover's father, and brother then devotes his life to killing them both) with some third rate Verdi (if only he had spared us the drama-sapping finale to Act 3, with the obligatory oh-so-jolly-we-have-to-have-a-knees-up-dance-and-drink-scene nonsense). But none of that matters, because there is enough first-rate Verdi to satisfy anyone - and when sung and acted with such magic, the result is the performance of a lifetime.

Anna Netrebko is perhaps the least likely candidate on earth to retreat into a cave for the rest of her life, but the voice has the works, from floating Verdi pianissimos that remind one of Katia Ricciarelli to huge, indulgent lower register power.

Even a marginally underpowered Jonas Kaufmann, as he seemed at moments, is still the most compelling singing actor around, and Ludovic Tézier shows why he is regarded by many as the finest Verdi baritone of our time. When the two are together – the meat of the opera – it is not so much compelling as incandescent.

Christof Loy’s staging has one major merit: he doesn’t attempt to shoehorn the piece into some wretched directorial concept. The production offers little but by not getting in the way of some truly sensational performances it does what is required of it.

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