Germany Verdi, La forza del destino: Oper Frankfurt Chorus, Frankfurter Opern- und Museumorchester / Jader Bignamini (conductor), Opernhaus, Frankfurt, 3.2.2019. (JMI)
Director – Tobias Kratzer
Sets and Costumes – Rainer Sellmaier
Lighting – Joachim Klein
Videos – Manuel Braun
Don Alvaro – Hovhannes Ayvazyan
Leonora – Michelle Bradley
Don Carlo di Vargas – Christopher Maltman
Padre Guardiano/Marquis of Calatrava – Franz Josef Selig
Preziosilla – Tanja Ariane Baumgartner
Fra Melitone – Craig Colclough
Trabuco – Michael McCown
Mayor – Dietrich Volle
Curra – Nina Tarandek
Surgeon – Anatolii Suprun
This performance of Verdi’s La forza del destino was generally disappointing: a Konzept Produktion staging, frequently seen in Germany, which has little to do with Verdi’s opera and a rather uneven cast, but a satisfying musical direction.
This new Tobias Kratzer production premiered here in January. Its central concept is the racial struggle in the United States throughout history and the country’s imperialism, which doesn’t seem to have a direct connection with this opera other than the fact that on one occasion Don Carlo insults Don Alvaro by calling him a mulatto. Act I takes place in the colonial era in the South with a Gone with the Wind setting, and it features a double scene: the singers are at the front of the stage while at the back there is a screen where you can see a film with exactly the same action as on the stage. The difference: if on the stage Leonora is black and Don Alvaro is white, on the screen the artists are the opposite. The same happens in the opera’s final scene where Don Alvaro and his double in the film do not commit suicide but rather are executed by a police team consisting of Padre Guardiano and Fra Melitone.
The Hornachuelos act takes place here in a kind of saloon with Confederate soldiers and all the characters wearing large cardboard heads. The reason for this seems to be to help explain why the siblings don’t recognize each other. Leonora’s arrival at the monastery presents a strange modern congregation which does not seem to be very religious; we realize at the end of the scene that these are not monks but members of the Ku Klux Klan. Act III takes place in Vietnam, with the first scene in a bedroom and the second with Preziosilla and her companions as Playboy Bunnies. As could be predicted, there is a screen with videos of Martin Luther King and his anti-war speeches.
Act IV begins with a crowd of homeless people and a statue of the Obamas. Here Don Carlo and Don Alvaro meet and challenge themselves to a duel with pistols. The final scene takes place in Leonora’s room where all die.
Kratzer’s stage direction is not in the service of the opera, obviously, but rather his personal ideas. There are some absurdities too such as Leonora dressed as a woman and not disguised as a man when she enters the monastery. Padre Guardiano is surprised when she reveals that she is (obviously) a woman and exclaims ‘Una donna!’, but he has not been portrayed as blind.
The version of the opera performed here is the original one which was premiered in St. Petersburg in 1862, with a truncated Overture and the scene of the first duel of Don Carlo and Don Alvaro. Usually the later version, which was revised by Verdi himself, is staged, and I consider it more accomplished in both musical and dramatic terms. The conductor was Jader Bignamini, who offered a convincing but not particularly bright reading – although it must be acknowledged that it would be difficult to conduct with what the maestro had in front of his eyes. Both the orchestra and chorus gave fine performances.
The character of Don Alvaro was played by tenor Hovhannes Ayvazyan, who is part of the Mariinsky company. His voice has a wide center which narrows noticeably in the higher notes where it is also quite tight, and his phrasing is not particularly elegant. There were some isolated boos after his aria ‘Tu che in seno agli angeli’.
Leonora was interpreted by soprano Michelle Bradley who has a very powerful voice in the middle. The disadvantage is that it is quite uncontrolled at the top, and she passed the scream barrier on more than one occasion.
The best in the cast was baritone Christopher Maltman whose interpretation of Don Carlo was impressive. His voice is right for this role, and he sings with excellent taste and expressiveness.
Franz Josef Selig doubled as the Marques de Calatrava and Padre Guardiano (or whoever he was) and was very good. He has an attractive voice which lacks just a little more volume to be one of the best basses today.
Preziosilla was played by mezzo soprano Tanja Ariane Baumgartner and she was quite good, as was Craig Colclough as Fra Melitone. The secondary characters were well covered.
José M. Irurzun