Opera News, APRIL 2019
George Hall
Verdi: La forza del destino, London, ab 21. März 2019
La Forza del Destino
LA FORZA DEL DESTINO, one of Verdi’s most ambitious works, returned to the Royal Opera House on March 21 in a new production by Christof Loy. Interest was exceptionally high, due to the casting of Anna Netrebko and Jonas Kaufmann as Leonora di Vargas and Don Alvaro; the teaming of two of international opera’s brightest stars was such a mouth-watering prospect for London opera fans that—according to rumor—tickets were being resold on the black market for £4,000. In fact, just four performances of the ten-show run at Covent Garden were scheduled to involve Netrebko and Kaufmann, who both turned up on the first night and delivered—in spades.

Now both at their peak, the two singers gave superlative vocal and dramatic accounts of their lengthy, emotionally supercharged roles. Netrebko’s flowing soprano, unflawed in tone and richly expressive at all dynamic levels, gave her the wherewithal to deliver a magnificent Leonora, marred, albeit minutely, only by her occasional tendency to sing sharp.

Kaufmann’s Alvaro displayed an identical level of engagement: his more textured tones were deployed with considerable finesse and in carefully shaped dynamic phrasing. In a production that required him to leap from opened casements, fight the assailants of his soon-to-be friend Don Felice de Bornos (one of the aliases of Leonora’s obsessive brother), and both to age and mature as a character, Kaufmann met every dramatic challenge as confidently as he met the vocal ones.

Ludovic Tézier’s grand-scale, vocally tireless portrayal of Don Carlo’s malevolence felt unrelenting, although the production and Tézier’s acting skill were sufficiently subtle as to give the character a sense of vulnerability and inadequacy. Veteran Ferruccio Furlanetto—who turns seventy in May 2019—was a Padre Guardiano of vocal amplitude and dramatic nobility, and Alessandro Corbelli was a Fra Melitone aptly more malicious than comic. In her local debut, Italian mezzo Veronica Simeoni brought lashings of showbizzy pizzazz to Preziosilla, although without sufficient accuracy in the scales and other fleet-footed passages. Robert Lloyd, now seventy-nine, made a memorable contribution as Calatrava and Roberta Alexander and Carlo Bosi were equally vivid as Curra and Trabuco.

Loy’s staging met the major challenge of the piece successfully: how to make a coherent whole from a story that is divided between two vastly different areas of human experience—the high-flown tragic obsessions of Don Alvaro and the Calatravas, and the everyday concerns of the common people, who are victims of hunger, war and exploitation. Dumbshows during the overture and subsequent video projections reminded the audience that the initial fatal encounter between Alvaro and the Marquis was not as important as the narrative thread that gives the opera its fascination. Christian Schmidt’s designs relied too heavily on one much-adapted set for the opera’s chief scenic locations, but his mixed-period costumes worked surprisingly well.

Antonio Pappano, who once again asserted his exceptional interpretative authority in this repertoire, conducted Verdi’s magnificent score in its standard 1869 edition, delivered with insight and intensity by the Royal Opera’s choral and orchestral forces.

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