Palumbo Forces Destiny in Barcelona

SpainSpain G. Verdi, La Forza del Destino: Soloists, Liceu Orchestra & Chorus, Renato Palumbo (conductor), Liceu, Barcelona, 16-18.10.2012 (JMI)

New production from Barcelona’s Liceu in coproduction with Paris’s Opera National

Direction: Jean-Claude Auvray
Sets: Alain Chambon
Costumes: Maria Chiara Donato
Lighting: Laurent Castaingt

Don Alvaro: Zoran Todorovich / Alfred Kim
Leonora: Violeta Urmana / Maria Pia Piscitelli / Micaela Carosi
Don Carlo di Vargas: Ludovic Tézier/Luca Salsi / Vladimir Stoyanov
Padre Guardiano: Vitalij Kowaljow / Carlo Colombara
Preziosilla: Marianne Cornetti / Enkelejda Shkosa / Anna Smirnova
Fra Melitone: Bruno de Simone / Roberto de Candia / Renato Girolami
Marquis di Calatrava: Abramo Rosalen / Marc Pujol
Curra: Cristina Faus / Anna Alàs
Major: Pierpaolo Palloni / Xavier Comorera
Trabuco: Vicenç Esteve Madrid
A Surgeon: Dimitar Darlev / Gabriel Diap

La Forza del Destino is back at Barcelona’s Liceau after 16 years. On that last occasion the performances took place at the Victoria Theatre while the Liceu was closed for reconstruction after it had been destroyed by that terrible fire on January 31, 1994. The Liceu has scheduled 14 performances of the Verdi’s opera, with three different casts. Too many performances, I’m afraid, judging by the many empty seats I saw on the three consecutive nights I was there.

Direcotr Jean-Claude Auvray moves the action from 18th to 19th century in this minimalist-ish production. The production uses attractive painted fabrics—to best effect in the second act, when Leonora enters the monastery, where the Francisco de Zurbarán paintings that set designer Alain Chambon employs almost steal the show. The production works reasonably well in the crowd scenes, but isn’t afraid of incongruencies, such as showing a burial procession in the Hornachuelos’ while the text refers to pilgrims. The costumes (Maria Chiara Donato) are colorful and attractive in the crowd scenes.

The most controversial point of this very comprehensive production (it includes the often cut first duel scene of Don Alvaro and Don Carlo) is to move the overture to the end of the first act, following a tradition created by Gustav Mahler and Dmitri Mitropoulos. I wonder what Mahler and his followers would say if a conductor decided to change the order of the movements of one of his symphonies… no, wait, that’s already being done.

Renato Palumbo is one of the best conductors for Verdi’s operas these days, whether we’re talking mature works or Verdi’s so-called galley years. He was outstanding at Aida last July (S&H review here), and he repeated that show of quality now. His reading was full of life, energy, with a strong pulse that never ebbed. Indeed, Palumbo has become a guarantee for good performances. The Liceu Orchestra was much improved under his baron, from their usual self, and the Liceu Chorus, reinforced this time by the choir of Gerona’s Opera Friends, did very well, too.

Marcello Giordani had been announced as Don Alvaro in the first cast, but it seems that things didn’t go too well for him. He was booed during some of previous performances (I was able to hear the radio broadcast of the performance on October 11th in which he sounded rather disappoiting), and by the time the 16th had come around, he had withdrawn from the production. He was replaced by Korean tenor Alfred Kim, the Don Alvaro of the third cast. A gain, as it turns out: The Korean is not a dramatic tenor, but rather a full lyric one, and he sings with great courage, helped by his bright and easy top register. The center of his range he doesn’t project his voice very well, and no one would call him a paragon of nuance, but he is a most reliable performer. I just don’t think he should sing this particular rôle too often if he wants to save the health of his instrument. The other two performances were sung by Zoran Todorovich as Don Alvaro, who left much to be desired. He is not a dramatic tenor either, who pushes considerably, has an insufficient upper register, and is mostly off pitch.

available at AmazonG.Verdi, La Forza del Destino,G.Sinopoli / Philharmonia / R.Plowright, A.Baltsa, J.Carreras, R.Bruson, J.Pons, P.Burchuladze, J.Tomlinson

Violeta Urmana was the Leonora in the first cast—casting that demanded some expectation-management on my part, so as not to be disappointed. Violeta Urmana is not a true soprano and she isn’t particularly well suited for Verdi heroines. Having top notes available does not alone make a mezzo a soprano. Not if the notes exist, but only shrill or shouted. I did not like her Leonora at Paris’ Bastille and I didn’t like it here.

The Italian soprano Norma Fantini canceled at the last minute and was replaced by Maria Pia Piscitelli who arrived at the theater about an hour before the opera started. She saved the performance, and with great dignity in the bargain. She uses her lyric soprano with gusto and expressiveness, has a pleasant timbre, and, admittedly, weak low notes.

Micaela Carosi should have been the best suited soprano—vocally—for the character of Leonora, but she was not very convincing. I found her uncontrolled at the top, too often too close to screaming. Even in “Pace, pace” she did not get more than pure courtesy-applause from the audience.

I had doubts about Ludovic Tezier as Don Carlo di Vargas, because I have always found him as a great lyric baritone while this opera requires rather different qualities. My doubts vanished with his convincing performance. Tezier’s voice has gained in weight without losing its original quality, and he has maintained his most elegant phrasing. He has undoubtedly become one of the best casting-choices for that role. Luca Salsi was the no-more-than-serviceable Don Carlo of the second cast, and the third cast’s Vladimir Stoyanov—an elegant singer, for sure—sounded like Marcello from La bohème had walked over into Verdi, to try on how a dramatic rôle might suit him.

Ukrainian bass Vitalij Kowaljow left an excellent impression as Padre Guardiano. He is a good singer with a very attractive, remarkably homogenous voice. Add just a little more volume and you’d have an ideal interpreter. Carlo Colomabara was also quite good in the second cast, with a faultless phrasing—but unfortunately with whitish, tight top notes.

Preziosilla is not a character that lies very comfortably for Marianne Cornetti, but she performed admirably all the same. Enkelejda Shkosa was not very interesting in the role. In the same rôle Anna Smirnova showed a huge, sometimes uncontrolled voice. Bruno De Simone was remarkable dramatically as Melitone, less so vocally. At least, that is, until you get used to his ungrateful timbre. Roberto de Candia sang and acted well; Renato Girolami offered us two aces as Melitones: almost voiceless in the last act, but perfectly fine in the first part. Among the supporting cast, Abramo Rosalen was excellent as the Marquis di Calatrava and Vicenç Esteve Madrid perfect as Trabuco.

José Mª Irurzun