Not the best Forza I've seen, but much better than I anticipated
La Forza Del Destino is not my favourite Verdi opera or quite in my top 5, mainly because the story is so sprawling. However the music is simply amazing, right from the best overture Verdi ever wrote, Alvaro and Carlos' duets to the exciting cabalettas(the best being the cabaletta to Carlos' Morrir Tremenda Cosa...Urna Fatale) and Leonora's hauntingly beautiful arias La Vergine Degli Angeli and Pace Pace Mio Dio. Is this 2007 Florence production the best Forza I've seen. No, for me the 1958 Tebaldi/Corelli/Bastianini, 1978 Caballe/Carreras/Cappuccilli, 1996 Sweet/Domingo/Chernov and 1984 Price/Giacomini/Nucci productions were better, as were the 1981 Tomowa-Sintow/Plishka and 1997 Gergiev-conducted performances. This performance is far superior though to the 2008 Stemme/Licitra/Alvarez performance, which had Mehta's conducting and excellent performances from Stemme and Alvarez to thank but an inconsistent supporting cast and bad staging let things down.
Visually, this production is very pleasing. Nicolas Joël's staging works well within the drama, doesn't distract from it from over-originality and while I have heard and seen more passionate performances it isn't dull either. What is especially good in this respect were the crowd scenes, a prominent part of the opera and quite large in scale but here they are colourfully staged without being cluttered. The costumes and sets are very simple in look, but are not ugly and are quite evocative actually. The lighting and picture quality help matters a lot, the lighting gives a gloomy feel that works perfectly within the story's tone while not being dark that you can't see what's going on. The picture quality has a certain crispness and un-obtrusiveness that also works very well, while the video directing actually works with instead of against the music.
Musically, the production is not quite what I call outstanding but is still impressive. The orchestra may sound under-sized for moments like the Overture, but other crucial parts like the choruses and Urna Fatale that have the bite they should, while it is also sensitive for arias like Pace, Pace Mio Dio. Zubin Mehta's conducting is not the best ever Verdi conducting he's ever done(1969's Il Trovatore with Price, Domingo and Milnes I am very fond of), but there is nothing rushed, plodding or self-indulgent about it. Instead he gives the score the necessary sense of excitement and melancholy like Levine and Patane before him. The chorus are splendid, giving an incisive energy for the Rataplan chorus in particular, and they are not static in their acting either. The sound is clear enough as well.
Violeta Urmana may not be the most petite of all women(no offence intended if it comes out that way), however she gives Leonora a nobility that does her altogether credible at least. Her voice is not the most beautiful or most subtle of sounds(I find that La Vergine Degli Angeli is more musically sung by Tebaldi and Caballe) but it is big and again nobly used. That is particularly true of her haunting rendition of Pace Pace Mio Dio and her death scene is poignant, more so dare I say than Caballe and Price put together. Marcello Giordani may be a somewhat wooden actor(though Alvaro's mental anguish is convincing at key points, just not consistent throughout) with a tendency to push, but his voice is largely un-strained and exciting with a ringing sound. I actually did find his O Tu Che In Seno Agli Angeli quite emotional to listen to.
Carlo Guelfi may have a dry sound to his voice(I would have preferred a more burnished, commanding or sumptuous sound like Alvarez, Milnes, Warren, Bastianini or Merrill for Carlos Act 3 aria) and like Urmana he is not very subtle, but he does sing excitingly and characterises well. The sinister, cynical smile he does is very chilling in his later interactions with Giordani, which while not as memorable as Corelli/Bastianini and Carreras/Cappuccilli on DVD and Tucker/Warren and Domingo/Milnes on record is at least convincing. Solenne In Quest'Ora is moving and Invanno Alvaro is intense. Robert Scandiuzzi I found to be the weak link here as Padre Guardiano, I never did feel the sympathy and reverence of the role like I did with Christoff, Ghiaurov and Giaotti and his tone has been much more focused before(like in 2002's Macbeth and 1991's Simon Boccanegra), here it is very worn-sounding.
Of the support cast, the best was the fantastic Melitone of Bruno De Simone, I'd say right on par with Bruscantini in the 1978 production. He may be diminutive in stature, but more than makes up for it with terrific singing, a suitably imp-ish nature and a richly comic and malicious characterisation. Julia Gertseva's Preziosilla isn't quite as good, she is very sexy and is wonderfully exuberant in the Rataplan chorus- managing to match the chorus exactly- but her voice is a little wobbly and lacking in agility, then again I find that a lot with Preziosillas even Cossotto, who I have a lot of admiration for. Overall, a good Forza, because of the work's potentially problematic sprawling nature and the very mixed reviews I read before watching I am glad I saw it and found it better than expected. It is not outstanding but it is solid, impressive stuff and you can do with far worse. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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