Evening Standard, 27 March 2019
Verdi: La forza del destino, London, ab 21. März 2019
La Forza del Destino review: Red-blooded passion and intensity
Souls were ransomed, eye teeth auctioned for a ticket to Verdi’s La Forza del Destino with superstars Jonas Kaufmann and Anna Netrebko.

Was it worth it? Arguably, but not for vocal prowess alone. Netrebko was undoubtedly the star of the evening, incarnating the role of the anguished Leonora with poleaxing intensity from the Act I farewell to her homeland, through the prayer for forgiveness in Act II to her celebrated set-piece, Pace, Pace, in the final act, spinning its long lines with rapturous tone.

As her lover, Alvaro, Kaufmann injected red-blooded passion and there’s no denying the special calibre of his voice. At the same time, it’s possible to find a habitual recourse to half-voice somewhat mannered and indeed to sense a lack of authenticity in the whole package. That’s partly to do with the stage persona of a superstar, and there’s a limit to what any director can do when the singer thinks he knows best. In fairness, though, there was a transformation in the final act, when Kaufmann instantly became the broken penitent in both stooped posture and sapped vocal quality.

The plot of Forza revolves notoriously around a catastrophic accident. Don Alvaro, about to elope with Leonora, throws his gun to the ground when confronted by Leonora’s father, causing it to fire and fatally wound the old man (the veteran Robert Lloyd in fine voice). Alvaro and Leonora, plagued with misery, are pursued remorselessly by Leonora’s brother, Carlo, hell-bent on vengeance to restore family honour. But Christof Loy’s intelligent production taps into the deeper currents of the work, showing how such obsessions devastate love, friendships, families and societies. Here not just the Father Superior of the monastery, but the monks themselves, are sworn to secrecy about Leonora’s concealment: whole communities become complicit. War, an ever-present backdrop, is the ultimate result, and the workings of destiny or fate, far from a superficial plot device, invoke something akin to Hegel’s sweep of world history.

There’s a stylised feel about the battlefield — photographic reproductions in Christian Schmidt’s design, often starkly lit (Olaf Winter); interiors and exteriors merge, emphasising their artificiality. The idea that ordinary people, including civilians, are sucked in and continue to be in our own day, is powerfully suggested, however. Sex is a distraction in the face of ennui and even Alvaro is momentarily tempted.

Most controversially, Loy presents the scene in the military encampment, with Preziosilla’s rousing Rataplan chorus, as a riotous carnival: a garish floor show with crazy jiving routines. And yet even Verdi’s staunchest admirers question the lack of organic unity between serious and comic elements in Forza; Loy actually offers consistency in a world turned upside down.

There’s splendid singing from Ludovic Tézier as Carlo and Ferruccio Furlanetto as Padre Guardiano. Beyond praise too is the conducting of Antonio Pappano, who unfailingly transmits the urgency of the drama, with its jabbing fate motif and inexorable drive.

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