La forza del destino

 

Guiseppe Verdi La forza del destino opera to libretto by Francesco Piave. Directed 2007 by Nicolas Joël at Maggio Musicale in Florence. Stars Violeta Urmana, Carlo Guelfi, Marcello Giordani, Duccio Dal Monte, Julia Gertseva, Roberto Scandiuzzi, Bruno De Simone, Antonella Trevisan, Filippo Polinelli, Carlo Bosi, and Alessandro Luongo. MaggioDanza choreographed  by Sabine Mouscardès. Zubin Mehta conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (Chorus Master Piero Monti). Restaged by Timo Schlüssel; set designs by Ezio Frigerio; costumes by Franca Squarciapino; lighting by Jürgen Hoffman; directed for TV by Andrea Bevilacqua.  Released 2009, disc has 7.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: C

People who don't like opera often cite the improbable plots as one of their reasons. Well, Verdi's Force of Destiny is full of improbabilities! It's almost as if putting "Destiny" in the title gives the librettist carte blanc to do just about anything, no matter how ludicrous! Here's just one example: in Act 3 Scene 2 when, after being seriously wounded in battle, Don Alvaro  believes he is on the verge of death. He gives his greatest friend, Don Carlo, a valise containing a bundle of letters which Don Carlo is to destroy as soon as Don Alvaro dies. Don Carlo has sworn not to look at the contents of the letters, but becomes suspicious of his friend. He opens the valise, finds Don Carlo's sister's picture, and realizes that Don Alvaro must be Don Carlo's sister's fiancee who "accidentally" shot Don Carlo's father to death and then disappeared (while the sister ran away and became a hermit). Ever since that day Don Carlo has vowed to find both his sister and her lover and kill them. He curses the fact that Don Alvoro is now about to die of his wounds, depriving him of revenge. At which moment, Destiny plays its card yet again, and in comes a surgeon to announce that, cheer up, Don Alvaro will make a perfect recovery. (This gets a snickering laugh from the audience in the Florentine Opera House!). Don Alvaro reappears about five minutes later, sufficiently fit to fight a duel with his enemy turned friend and now enemy again.

Nicolas Joël's production does nothing to temper this or other jaw-dropping "twists of fate" in the story. The hammy plot is presented in a very traditional and at times overly static manner. All this crowds out the excellent music (it is Verdi after all) and the overall high level of performance. In particular, Violeta Urmana, the heroine Leonora, has an amazingly powerful voice and does more than justice to her role. (She also manages to retain her generous proportions after living as a hermit in a grotto for 10 years on just one loaf of rancid bread a week.)

Maybe it's time someone updated "The Force of Destiny" to the First World War or something. In any case, for me, this production deserves no more than a grudging grade of "C." Gordon Smith of OperaDou.

When I first watched La forza del destino months ago, I didn't enjoy it and gave it  a "C" grade without knowing why. Gordon Smith's comments in his mini-review above inspired me to view again. Two aspects of the opera are still valid. First is Verdi's contast between the mad arrogance of the aristocrats and the pitiful condition of the people who are exploited by their leaders. Second is Verdi's condemnation of the Calatrava curse, which brings total destruction to his family while sparing Alvaro. (In the original version, Alvaro also died.)

But there are also two big problems. First, as Gordon so neatly points out, we are too cynical now to accept wholesale plot goofiness for melodramatic effect. Second, there is an obnoxious war mongering theme which peaks at the end of Act 3 with the "Rataplan" military chorus. This was part of European culture in Verdi's time, but it disappeared during the Great European War that took place in two phases between 1914 and 1945.

With all this in mind, I was able on re-viewing to enjoy the great arias, duets, chorus work, and orchestration in this work.  But I think we should stick with the "C" grade. Maybe some other director will be able to update the problematical plot.