Anja Harteros Comes to the Rescue of a Tedious Verdi Production

GermanyGermany Munich Opera Festival 2017 [3] – Verdi, La forza del destino: Bayerische Staatsoper Orchestra and Chorus / Asher Fisch (conductor), Nationaltheater, Munich, 23.7.2017. (JMI)

La forza del destino © W. Hösl
La forza del destino © W. Hösl

Alvaro – Jonas Kaufmann
Leonora – Anja Harteros
Carlo di Vargas – Simone Piazzola
Padre Guardiano – Vitalij Kowaljow
Preziosilla – Nadia Krasteva
Fra Melitone – Ambrogio Maestri
Calatrava – Vitalij Kowaljow
Trabuco – Matthew Grills
Mayor – Christian Rieger
Curra – Heike Grötinger
Surgeon – Igor Tsarkov

Director – Martin Kušej
Sets – Martin Zehetgruber
Costumes – Heidi Hackl
Lighting – Reinhard Traub

The impressive night of music at the Munich opera with Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (review click here) was followed by a somewhat tedious Verdi performance. Only Anja Harteros fully met my expectations.

La forza del destino is one of the most uneven of Verdi’s operas. There are some splendid passages, among the finest he ever wrote, along with others of lesser quality. Among the former are the tenor and baritone duos and Leonora’s aria as she enters the monastery. Among the latter is the music Verdi composed for Preziosilla’s and Melitone’s scenes. With all the musical irregularities it isn’t easy to make this opera succeed.

The Martin Kušej production premiered here in 2013, coinciding with the second centenary of Verdi’s birth. Beyond bringing the action up to modern times, there is little of interest, and the stage direction is particularly poor, especially in the crowd scenes. Other Kušej productions offer some underlying central ideas, but I cannot find a single one here.

The sets offer two different scenarios. In Act I there is a dining room where the Calatrava family is seated at a large table. Basically the same stage serves for Leonora as she goes into the monastery. Act III in Italy features some sort of cave with different levels, while the last act moves to what appears to be a field full of crosses. One prop is always present on stage: the large table, which allows for various gymnastic exhibitions by the singers. Leonora and Don Carlo, seated on chairs, die at the table. The monks are members of some sect. It would have been better if an attempt had been made to disguise Leonora in Act II set in the village of Hornachuelos: it is pathetic that her brother looks right at her face but does not recognize her. Even more out of place is the presence of Calatrava’s corpse throughout the entire Hornachuelos scene.

Whether the decision was Mr. Kušej’s or the musical director’s, the version used is the revised one done for Milan in 1869 with some cuts. It includes the scene of the first duel of Don Alvaro and Don Carlo, although the location is quite curious. And it is more than surprising to have Don Carlo sing ‘Urna fatale’ in front of the unconscious Don Alvaro. Barely a second has passed after the wounded and unconscious Don Alvaro is seen by the doctor when the latter announces to Don Carlo that Alvaro is saved.

Asher Fisch’s conducting was fairly boring, especially after hearing Kirill Petrenko the day before. La forza del destino has enough problems without a mediocre conductor in the pit. The Bayerische Staatsorchester did not perform well, but the chorus was again excellent.

Jonas Kaufmann returned to Munich after his debut as Otello in Covent Garden, but his performance was not up to the level that one always expects from such a magnificent tenor. There were many precautions on his part. He was disappointing in the first act but improved in Act III though without reaching the level he has attained before in the same character and in this theatre. He really only excelled in the final act. Between this Don Alvaro and the one of three years ago, there was a significant difference.

Anja Harteros was once again a great Leonora, and undoubtedly the best of the entire cast. Her performance in the monastery scene was pure perfection, and her much-anticipated ‘Pace, pace’ was magnificent, the best moment of the whole night. She is an exceptional singer, at the level now with the greatest in the history of opera.

Baritone Simone Piazzola gave life to Don Carlo di Vargas, and he did well, although it was far from what Ludovic Tezier offered three years ago. Mr. Piazzola’s voice has lost volume in recent years, and his performance was somewhat superficial.

Vitalij Kowaljow repeated as Father Guardian and doubled as Calatrava. His voice is attractive and he handles it well. Nadia Krasteva as Preziosilla was not particularly interesting, and presented some shouted high notes.

Ambrogio Maestri was suitable in the role of Fra Melitone, and Trabuco was nicely interpreted by Matthew Grills. The Mayor – here more of an innkeeper – was well served by Christian Rieger. Heike Grötzinger was a correct Curra.

The Nationaltheater was once again sold out. The audience offered a triumphant reception to the artists, and particularly to Anja Harteros and Jonas Kaufmann in that order.

José M. Irurzun 

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