Review: La Forza Del Destino
by Alice Lacey
Photo by Richard Hubert Smith
Admittedly, the only thing I knew about Verdi's La Forza Del Destino prior to attending its 'one-night-only' performance at the Hippodrome was that "it had that bit from the Stella Artois advert" in it. This may not paint me in a particularly good light but in my defence: Verdi's tale of patricide, lovers on the run, scheming friars and duelling adversaries is perhaps the least well-known of Verdi's mature operas. This may, in fact, be for good reason after witnessing the sprawling, cumbersome plot and (by the composer's own admission) lack of musical inspiration.
La Forza Del Destino's plot is difficult to condense (opera buffs look away now) however, by way of a crude attempt, it principally concerns two young lovers; Leonora and Don Alvaro who are forced to go into hiding after accidentally killing Leonora's father whilst eloping. Leonora's brother, Don Carlo, finds out and pledges his revenge on Don Alvaro. The characters are then thrown together and torn apart in a series of coincidental meetings which take place in military encampments, monasteries and battlefields. Ultimately, things ends badly for almost everyone (except Don Alvaro who lives but, quite inconveniently, is cursed for all eternity).
Nonetheless, the Welsh National Opera's attempt at re-booting what could be considered "an old dog" was commendable, if not wholly successful. Indeed, the WNO production, conducted by Carol Rizzi and directed by David Pountney opted for an edited score, and whilst this kept the performance to a succinct three hours, it made following an already convoluted plot, that much harder.
"the clunky unsubtlety employed in this production made the whole thing seem somewhat gauche"
Equally confusing was the decision to use a CGI backdrop of revolving bullets, guns and blood splatters which became, as early on as the first act, somewhat tiresome particularly given the poor quality of the graphics which were distractingly jerky and dated. This, coupled with the decision to place the drama during the time of the Spanish Civil War (late 1930's) and dress a number of the characters in fascist regalia, complete with clockwork orange style eye make-up and sequined berets, diminished any sense of subtlety the performance might have had.
My biggest gripe, however, was the decision to allow the stage hands on stage in full headphone attire. Given the number of times the set (comprised of stark, utilitarian mobile screens) moved, this became something of a further frustration when concentration levels were already at an all-time low.
Notwithstanding the above, the singing itself was excellent and if you closed your eyes (and ignored the staging) things significantly improved. Indeed, with her rich, sumptuous soprano, Mary Elizabeth Williams was a wonderfully strong Leonora; her three arias being the highlight of the evening. Similarly, Justina Gringyte as the dazzling, patriotic Preziosilla and Luis Cansino's dark baritone for the vengeful Don Carlo were perfectly cast and pitch perfect. Credit should also be given to the orchestra who managed Verdi's unwieldy score with real dexterity and emotion, but without overshadowing the singers on stage.
Overall, this was always going to be a difficult opera to get right. Whilst I fully support any attempt to make opera more accessible, the clunky unsubtlety employed in this production made the whole thing seem somewhat gauche; a real shame given the evident talent of its cast and orchestra.