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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La forza del destino, opera in four acts
Carlos Álvarez (Don Carlo)
Nina Stemme (Leonora)
Salvatore Licitra (Don Alvaro)
Nadia Krasteva (Preziosilla)
Alastair Miles (Il Marchese di Calatrava; Padre Guardiano)
Tiziano Bracci (Fra Melitone)
Chorus & Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, cond. Zubin Mehta,
David Pountney (Director).
rec. live, 1 March 2008, Vienna State Opera
PCM Stereo, DTS 5.0; Picture 16:9.
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Korean, and Chinese.
Booklet: English, German and French.
C MAJOR 751104 Blu-ray [161 mins]

This performance of Verdi’s La forza del destino from the Vienna State Opera is of the familiar 1869 revised version, not the 1862 original for St. Petersburg. At least in 1869 the body count at the end is reduced by one, as Alvaro lives on. David Pountney’s production serves the work pretty well. Richard Hudson’s setting creates a contemporary-looking world from simple bold designs, and leaves it mostly uncluttered - completely so for the great final scene. So there are few places for the three main characters to hide from the fate that pursues them so implacably across time and national borders. The focus is thus kept firmly on these despairing figures and the interactions between them that drive the drama.

A narrow sloping white platform strip, with an equally narrow wall at one end, serves as the centrepiece throughout. It has to do duty as the Calatrava ancestral home, a tavern, a monastery, and a battlefield. It is effective enough in each guise, but especially when the monks assemble for the ceremony of dedication as Leonora begins her solitary penance at the end of Act Two. It acquires a surrounding structure in Act Three, a sort of circular latticed climbing frame in and around which Alvaro and Carlo, who fast friends then firm foes, switch between fighting the enemy and one another. The circular frame above the stage, from which hanged figures dangle, is a reminder that this is a world of summary ‘justice’.

Costumes are modern, or at least mid-twentieth century. Padre Guardiano wears a suit that would not disgrace a CEO, which might be about right for a Father Superior in a monastery. More confusing are the “peasants and muleteers” of the Act Two tavern scene, who are red-clad cowboys and cowgirls, and red-uniformed proletarians, all carrying books adorned with the cross, invoking the Church militant perhaps in this war-torn opera. Preziosilla resembles Calamity Jane in a rodeo. There are later screen projections of the fateful gun from scene one, flowing blood, Second World War tanks, and a screaming bomb falls to close Act Three.

The cast is a strong team. The most powerful performance is that by Nina Stemme as Leonora, a true Verdi spinto if not one with an especially alluring sound. Salvatore Licitra is Alvaro. After early success and being hailed as the ‘new Pavarotti’ the Sicilian tenor had a tricky patch in his late thirties, around the time of this production. But he is on pretty good form here, and the disc would make a fair souvenir of an artist who died aged 43 in 2011. Despite being below the note in a couple of unimportant moments his ringing tenor makes a real impression, as does his stage charisma. Just as compelling is the Don Carlo of Carlos Álvarez, saturnine and intransigent, and with a baritone voice and technique able to cope with the composer’s demands. The comprimario roles of Preziosilla (Nadia Krasteva), Padre Guardiano (Alistair Miles) and Fra Melitone (Tiziano Bracci) are all effectively portrayed, not least because Pountney directs them with clarity and invention, but without eccentricity. The Viennese forces are of course very impressive, and Mehta has long been able to command high commitment from his forces in Italian opera.

There are no extras, but the filming and sound are very good indeed on this new Blu-ray version (the DVD version came out in 2011). Of course there are other options. My MWI colleague especially liked the recent Sony from Munich (review), with its headline cast of Anja Harteros, Jonas Kaufmann and Ludovic Tézier, and concluded “for anyone who isn’t entirely allergic to a bit of Regietheater this is now the one to go for”. But this Vienna account might still be worth your consideration, for its all-round musical excellence and a mostly persuasive production.

Roy Westbrook



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