Financial Times, Mar. 22, 2019
Richard Fairman
Verdi: La forza del destino, London, ab 21. März 2019
Kaufmann and Netrebko make a dream pairing in the Royal Opera’s La forza del destino
The tenor and soprano lead a first-rate cast on the London stage in Verdi’s opera

At what point can a ticket be described as “hot”? According to recent reports, tickets for the Royal Opera’s new production of La forza del destino have been changing hands for as much as £3,500, which is scalding by any standards and shows what happens when opera’s two hottest properties, Anna Netrebko and Jonas Kaufmann, are brought together in the same production.

Fate always seems to be waiting in the wings for a company that is putting on La forza del destino. Verdi’s epic opera about the inexorable power of destiny to govern human affairs has a reputation as a work that courts disaster in performance, but the Royal Opera must have done a backroom deal with the gods on this occasion.

The optimum international cast of the day has been invited and none of them cancelled. Although Christof Loy’s production, shared with Dutch National Opera, has its faults, it provides a decent basis for a first-rate musical performance.

The audience get their money’s worth in one very particular respect. The opera is played without the cuts that are sometimes made to the genre scenes. This is important for balance, as one of the opera’s themes is to contrast the masses struggling against war and famine with an aristocracy who have the luxury of rich people’s problems, such as dynastic purity and family loyalty.

Loy’s production is good on the big picture. He uses Verdi’s longest overture to show us the settled life of the noble Calatrava family and, after the tragic accident hits, that room in the family house looms over every scene. We see that however far the members of this family run, they can never escape the destiny that was theirs from that moment. There is a price to be paid, though, in a big loss of atmosphere, especially at the monastery, and dramatic reach. Nor does playing the war scenes as a cabaret knees-up help.

The overriding emotion of this opera is desperation, and nobody embodies that more powerfully than Netrebko. Aside from one unmissable vocal blip, and some occasionally lumpy phrasing, she sings the fated Leonora with beauty, strength (what rich lower notes she has now) and an exhilarating determination to give her all. It is hard to believe this is the same singer as the sweet young soprano I saw in Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila in St Petersburg 20 years ago. What a journey she has made.

In Kaufmann’s Don Alvaro she has the most romantic of tenor leads. He also sings strongly, but it is his exceptional musicality, searching out moments of heartfelt sensitivity, that sets him aside from gung-ho Italian tenors, even if they are more obviously idiomatic.

In this prestigious company, baritone Ludovic Tézier has no trouble holding his own as a sturdy, forceful Don Carlo, while Ferruccio Furlanetto, a Padre Guardiano of long experience, returns with authority and bass voice undimmed. There is no better casting today for the irascible monk Melitone than buffo bass Alessandro Corbelli and Veronica Simeoni is a lighter-than-usual, flighty Preziosilla. It was good to see new young bass Michael Mofidian as Alcalde and, at the other extreme, veteran Robert Lloyd, 80 next year, as a wonderfully patrician Marquis of Calatrava.

What is there not to like? The chorus has never sounded better. Antonio Pappano conducts with Verdi in his bones and the orchestra’s playing revealed beauty of detail in every corner. Just take out a mortgage and that last seat in the stalls could be yours.

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