La Forza del Destino

November 14, 2011By Nick HammondMusic

Zoran Todorovich as Don Alvaro, Violeta Urmana as Donna Leonora and Kwangchul Youn as Padre Guardiano. Photo: Opéra National de Paris/Andrea Messana

Verdi’s La Forza del Destino seems tailor-made for the incomparable Joyce Grenfell’s comic monologue, “Opera Interval,” about a spectator getting confused by the intricacies of an opera plot: “I can’t quite work out why she starts off in that pretty dress, and then comes dressed as a crusader… Well, obviously it is a disguise, but one longs to know why!” The main characters in this opera get disguised enough times to confuse the most discerning of audiences. But what an extraordinary opera it is both musically and dramatically!

First performed in Saint Petersburg in 1862, La Forza del Destino represents Verdi’s mature style, with the music through-composed rather than being divided into recitatives and arias as in his earlier operas. The Paris Opera put on its first production in 1975, making this only the second time it has ever been produced here.

The whole force of destiny of the title (interestingly, the only opera by Verdi not to include a name or place in its title) is unleashed by the accidental shooting of Leonora’s father by Don Alvaro as he prepares to elope with Leonora. The remainder of the opera, which unfolds over several years in different locations, follows the separate plight of the two protagonists as Leonora’s brother Don Carlo tries to track them down to avenge his father’s death. Never before has an opera with a central love interest managed to keep the lovers completely separate, except at the very beginning and end of the piece. Out of over three hours of music, Leonora and Don Alvaro probably sing together for 5 minutes at most.

The outstanding voice of the production is undoubtedly Violeta Urmana as Leonora. Her range and power (singing Wagner has undoubtedly helped her in this regard) as well as her ability to sing the most exquisite pianissimo made me regret that Verdi confines the role only to the first part and the very end of the opera. Zoran Todorovich, who is alternating the role of Don Alvaro with Marcelo Alvarez, started a little uncertainly but grew into the role, performing with ardor. Of the other soloists, Kwangchul Youn as Father Guardiano, who takes Leonora and later Don Alvaro into his monastery, is very affecting, and Nicola Alaimo as the less-than-saintly Brother Melitone gives this darkest of operas a comic dimension. As we have come to expect at the Paris Opera, the chorus is excellent.

Philippe Jordan proves himself to be as adept at conducting mature Verdi as he is at conducting Wagner’s Ring Cycle. The Paris Opera Orchestra is mightily relieved to have secured his services for another few years. My only concern is that, as his stock has risen, so too has his tendency to showboat for the audience. His conducting of the famous overture, for instance, seemed to dwell as much on his histrionic athleticism as the sounds he was eliciting from the ever-superb orchestra.

Those who like their operas played without any directorial conceits will be pleased by Jean-Claude Auvray’s straightforward production. Visually it is stunning, and Alain Chambon’s decor and the gorgeous costumes designed by Maria-Chiara Donato help to give each scene the appearance, color and lighting of Spanish Golden Age paintings.

This Forza del Destino is not to be missed. And if it takes Paris Opera another few decades to stage the next production, it might be your final opportunity!

Nick Hammond

Opéra National de Paris: Place de la Bastille, 75012 Paris. Métro: Bastille. Tel.: 0 892 89 90 90 or + 33 (0)1 71 25 24 23 (from abroad). Remaining performances: November 17, 23, 26 and 29 and December 2, 5, 8, 15 and 17 at 7pm. November 20 and December 11 at 2:30pm. Tickets: €5-€180.

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