music OMH, 22 March 2019
by Melanie Eskenazi
Verdi: La forza del destino, London, ab 21. März 2019
La forza del destino @ Royal Opera House, London
If it’s true that some paid vast sums to obtain a ticket for what the ROH itself billed as this “star studded cast,” was it worth it? Most definitely; this was an “I was there” event of the kind so rarely experienced. The sense of anticipation and trepidation in the house last night was almost palpable – it was a bit like a more monied version of the half hour before a big match when the team’s supporters are worried that the star goal scorer might not be fit to play. Happily, all of the big note scorers were on the pitch, and they sent the fans into transports of joy in spite of the somewhat messy nature of the overall game.

Anna Netrebko was the undoubted star of the evening, her voice now ideal for this role from the alternately impassioned and vacillating first scene to her final exquisite pleas. ‘Me pellegrina ed orfana’ was a model of what Netrebko herself defined as the ideal for Verdi singing, in terms of resonance and pure lyrical line, and ‘Pace, pace, mio Dio’ was enthralling in its vocal shading and the melting quality of the phrasing. In dramatic terms she triumphantly executed the change from sheltered, cosseted daughter who barely knows her own mind, to faithful distant lover and tortured penitent.

Jonas Kaufmann’s singing of Verdi roles is always nuanced and considered, and this Alvaro continues his very individual exploration of these flawed heroes. His ‘La vita é inferno all’infelice’ might not have had Corelli’s stentorian appeal (but then, Corelli was allowed to park n’ bark without the distraction of having just emerged from a behind-the-flats quickie) but ‘Siviglia! Leonora! Oh, rimembranza’ tore at the heartstrings as it should. His ‘dying’ scene with Carlo was mesmerizing in its beauty and finesse, and his portrayal of the thwarted lover and penitent was entirely convincing.

The starry pair were supported by an outstanding cast, Ludovic Tézier’s Carlo sharing the vocal honours with Netrebko and Kaufmann in a performance of absolute sincerity and true Verdian baritone style. His portrayal of the conflicts Carlo suffers in ‘Urna fatale del mio destin’ and his fluent, finely phrased singing in the great duet equalled Kaufmann’s, and their long-drawn out blood feud provided an exceptionally strong link between the acts.

Ferruccio Furlanetto gave a most moving performance of Guardiano’s great Act IV aria, full of nobility and grandeur, and Alessandro Corbelli showed once again that he is the number one choice for roles such as Melitone. Robert Lloyd blustered and expired splendidly as the Marquis (how often one has seen this great bass die onstage!) and Roberta Alexander was an ideal Curra, torn between assisting her mistress and maintaining the status quo. Veronica Simeoni was a vibrant Preziosilla, making the most of a role which many of us could happily live without.

William Spaulding had coached the Royal Opera Chorus to great heights, with splendidly lusty singing which rose above the antics required of its various members. Christof Loy’s concept for the Marquis’ stately home and the monastery was well served by Christian Schmidt’s designs, the setting pleasingly austere in contrast to the rather over-busy ‘battle’ and feasting scenes. The video projections were rather suddenly employed, and although some felt them unnecessary, friends seated in the Amphitheatre were happy with them because “they allowed us to see the singers’ faces.” The production in general did not distract from the crucial scenes involving the principals, and one has to feel gratitude for the concentration on those intimate moments of operatic splendour.

Sir Antonio Pappano worked his characteristic wonders in the pit, with an orchestra which has never sounded better – the clarinets alone touched the heights of grace. That familiar overture has hardly ever sounded so exciting and yet so doom-laden, and the support given to the singers was always sympathetic. Both the sparkle of the heavily peopled scenes and the grandeur of those highlighting the characters’ conflicts were achieved with direction of great nobility and finesse.

Just a few more performances with Netrebko and Kaufmann on March 24th and April 2nd and 5th – go if you possibly can, and take our advice on obtaining tickets; get online at 10 am on your chosen day, and keep looking at intervals in the hope of returns.

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