The Guardian, 22 Mar 2019
Tim Ashley
Verdi: La forza del destino, London, ab 21. März 2019
La Forza del Destino review – guilt and obsession with opera's biggest stars
Christof Loy cannot quite bring Verdi’s ungainly drama together but Jonas Kaufmann, Anna Netrebko and Antonio Pappano force their operatic flair to the fore

Directed by Christof Loy, the Royal Opera’s new production of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino is an import from Amsterdam, where it was first seen in September 2017. Theatrically, it is an uneven affair, compounded of grandeur and longueurs, which you could argue reflects the unwieldy nature of the work itself, with its unstable mix of fatalistic tragedy and bitter comedy. Musically, it is at times tremendous. There are cast changes as the run progresses, but the lineup on opening night, with Anna Netrebko as Leonora, Jonas Kaufmann as Alvaro and Ludovic Tézier as Carlo, was starry in the extreme – and unquestionably exciting.

Netrebko’s ability to combine vocal weight with delicacy allows her both to power her way magnificently through the climaxes of Madre, Pietosa Vergine and float the long lines of La Vergine Degli Angeli with exquisite ease.

Kaufmann, with his dark tone and passionate delivery, makes a very Byronic Alvaro – ardent yet guilt-ridden – while Tézier’s Carlo has the implacable fanaticism of the obsessive: their scenes together, the high points of the evening, are thrillingly done. Elsewhere, though, things are less even. Veronica Simeoni struggles a bit as Preziosilla, though Ferruccio Furlanetto makes a noble, authoritative Padre Guardiano, and Alessandro Corbelli is wonderfully sardonic and funny as Melitone. Antonio Pappano, meanwhile, conducts with great commitment and energy.

Loy, however, perhaps tries to do too much. He opens with an awkward dumbshow, in which the Calatrava family turns in on itself psychologically after the death of Leonora and Carlo’s younger brother.

Elsewhere, we’re continually reminded of the persistence of memory as scenes of the Marquis’s accidental death, repeatedly projected on to the walls of Christian Schmidt’s set, evoke flashbacks to past trauma from which the characters are unable to escape. The tone sometimes falters, and the transformation of the army camp scenes into a surreal revue, reminiscent of Oh, What a Lovely War, sits at times uneasily with the score. Ultimately, it doesn’t quite gel, though the performance itself is magnificent and unforgettable.

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