pondělí 14. května 2018

Glorious La forza del destino at Semperoper

One must wonder why La forza del destino had not become a regular title like other Verdi's favorites. There are many reasons – the difficulty of the plot for potential staging (not to forget that singing parts are extremely technically challenging), story that might not be as understandable nor popular as La Traviata or perhaps even Rigolleto. There is also the known conspiracy for the opera title to be cursed, mostly because in 1960 at the MET, Leonard Warren collapsed and died during the performance. Even Lucianno Pavarotti never performed in the opera on stage, and Franco Corelli had always followed a special ritual during performances to avoid bad luck. And yet, when Forza is produced at such venue like Dresden's Semperoper, there is no doubt that it was going to be a special event. And it truly was...

Verdi's masterpiece with libretto by Francesco Maria Piave was based on 1835 Spanish drama Don Álvaro o la fuerza del sino by Ángel de Saavedra with a scene adapted from Schiller's Wallnsteins Lager. The opera premiered at The Saint Petersburg Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre on 10 November 1862. After the premiere Verdi himself revised some of the parts which led to the European premiere in Rome in 1863 under the new title Don Alvaro. There were many other productions (in New York and Vienna in 1865, Buenos Aires in 1866 and also in London a year later). Later on Verdi made futher changes – the new version which premiered in La Scala in February 1869 has become the standard one which included a new overture and additional final scene to Act 3 and new ending.

  Emily Magee (Donna Leonora), Stephen Milling (Il Padre Guardiano)

Dresden's Semperoper however decided to produce the original version which premiered in 1862 in Russia. Without the famos overture, opera's first scene takes place on a rather gloomy evening in front of house where Leonora bits good night to her father while secretly meeting her beloved Don Alvaro who's just about to leave her sight. And because Leonora's father Marchese di Calatrava isn't very keen on the idea of relationship between his daughter and Don Alvaro, he storms out of his rooms to find the two in each other’s arms. He's accidently shot by Alvaro who flees from the scene. After Calatrava's funeral, Leonora changes into man's cloths and runs away from home in order to search for her beloved Alvaro who's gone and nobody knows where. And here comes the moment when Leonora's brother Don Carlo appears and swears to kill both Alvaro and his sister for being responsible for father's dead. Don Carlo also changes identity and runs from home to find the couple.

Leonora wonders around the world in search of Alvaro. After years of searching she gives us and finds peace in the monastery's hermitage to live by herself without seeing anyone for the rest of her days. With lots of twists and turns in the story, the two men meet during a war and become best of friends (not knowing the real identities of the other person). Alvaro is wounded and Carlo finds out that he's the real killer of his father. Alvaro manages to escape once more and Carlo promises himself to find him and kill him.
Years go by and Don Alvaro enters the monastery and becomes Father Raphael. Don Carlo find him and forces him to fight; first he refuses but then he fights back and wounds Carlo in a duel. Alvaro (Father Raphael) runs into the cave in search of help for a wounded friend. Leonora comes out and recognizes Alvaro. She also sees her wounded brother, and as she bends over him, he stabs her in the heart. Leonora dies. Alvaro who can't bare the guilt of having killed or caused the death of the whole family (father, brother and Leonora), jumps to his death into the nearby ravine...

 Alexey Markov (Don Carlo di Vargas), Gregory Kunde (Don Alvaro)

And while Forza is never an easy task for stage directors, Dresden's simple staging went a long way. With a couple of technical movements of props, we could see the original house from Act 1 changed into a pub, hospital and monastery. The black and white carpets would be rolled in or out depending on the storyline and mood of each scene. I particularly enjoyed the two silent spiritual characters (an Indian and a Saint Mary holding a baby) appearing on stage whenever there was a destiny change that escalated into the final tragic death of everybody. The wonderful costumes and lighting were great assets to the already dramatic staging of Verdi's masterpiece.

It is extraordinary to hear such wonderful singers and see great chemistry on stage. And the fact that age is just a number is totally proven by legendary American tenor Gregory Kunde who at 64 sings Don Alvaro like nobody else today. His great technique best known from his earlier bel canto and mostly Rosinni parts pays off and he without any vocal difficulty sings big Verdi parts so wonderfully. I was lucky to hear him as Otello in Wiesbaden not even 10 days prior to his Don Alvaro in Dresden where he won over the audience with his great acting and singing style.

Emily Magee's Leonora was a strong and determined woman who wanted so much to be good and yet her life ended so tragically. Emily Magee is no stranger to heavier parts. I personally heard her as Tosca some years ago and I could tell her best years were to come. Well, the time has come and she has embraced her singing with great and yet very natural and dramatic sound that's unbeatable.

The big surprise for me was Alexey Markov who portraits Don Carlo who's determined to do what he can do fulfill his promise of revenge. His velvet baritone sounded fresh and was equal to Gregory Kunde's tenor especially in their wonderful duet in the last act.

Conductor: Mark Wigglesworth
Staging: Julia Müer
Director: Keith Warner
Costumes: Tilo Steffens
Lighting Design:Wolfgang Göbbel

Marchese di Calatrava / Il Padre Guardiano: Stephen Milling
Donna Leonora: Emily Magee
Don Carlo di Vargas: Alexey Markov
Don Alvaro: Gregory Kunde
Preziosilla / Curra: Christina Bock
Fra Melitone:Pietro Spagnoli
Un Alcade: Alexandros Stavrakakis
Mastro Trabuco: Gideon Poppe
Un Chirurgo: Allen Boxer
Una Donna: Kristina Fehrs