La Forza del Destino is a story of Love, Revenge and Honour. So far so Verdi. But it is also an epic tale of a country fighting multiple wars, of the poverty of its people and the position of the Catholic church within society. Furthermore there is some buffo comedy of which Shakespeare would have been proud. This is not the taut drama which we expect from the master but something nearer a not very well constructed novel.

Nevertheless, it is a masterpiece, magnificent, involving and, as the pulsing theme beats to the end, deeply moving. Verdi himself knew there were problems which is why we are seeing the second performed version from 1869 instead of the original 1862 which was even less cohesive than the present version and ended in a bloodbath with the three principals either stabbed or, in the case of the unlucky tenor (who ignores the wails of a chorus of monks) jumping off a cliff.

The principle remaining problem is in the long Act, set in an army encampment and mostly lifted from Schiller’s Wallestein’s Lager. Within its ill-defined form, two of our principals, the heroic Don Alfonso and the vengeful Don Carlo meet as strangers, Alfonso’s life is saved by Carlo, they swear eternal friendship, but while the doctor saves Alfonso’s life for the long-term, Carlo discovers he is the man whose death he is seeking and, (months passing) challenges him to a duel. Meanwhile the girls, led by gypsy, Preziosilla, entertain the men while the starving poor emerge to no avail. Even Fra Melitone. the comic monk, gets fed up with his charity cases and their irresponsible breeding habits. The problem with crowd scenes and unrelated comedy, is that, unless they moved the plot forward, they distract from the central drama without adding very much.

The core story begins with the beautiful and religious Donna Leonora enraging her father, the proud Marquis of Calatrava, by falling in love with Don Alvaro, the mixed-race son of an Inca Princess and a Spanish nobleman. The couple decide to elope, but are caught by Calatrava. Determined to prove his honourable intentions, Alfonso throws down his pistol which goes off and kills Catrava. It is this unfortunate accident while sets Carlo on the revenge trail of both his sister and Alfonso. Horrified and guilty, they have both fled, Leonora to a monastery and Alfonso into the army.

The cast assembled by the ROH on the night I attended, could not have been bettered. Leonora was sung by the Russian Liudmyla Monastyrska who moved easily between the most powerful tone and the most delicate. Her singing of the prayers and chants was exquisite and helped to make believable her decision to spend her life alone in a rocky cave where even the monks are forbidden to visit her – although it must be said her dreams remain with Alfonso.

Jonas Kaufmann as Don Alfonso brought all his seductive charms of voice and person to woo Leonora before tragedy turns him out into the wider world. Both he and, French baritone, Ludovic Tezir, rightfully won ovations from the audience. Robert Llyod reprising the role of Marquis of Calatrava which he first sung at the ROH in 1973 was as convincing as ever while the strong-voiced Ferruccio Furlanetto brought both humanity and authority to the important role of Padre Guardiano. Veronica Simeoni brought her considerable vocal and acting talents to bear on the gypsy Preziosilla, particularly necessary, as she was required to wear a Weimar Republic style trouser suit and cropped hair. Even the difficult task of making Melitone funny was just abour pulled off by Alessandro Corbello who acted and sang the part with gusto.

The setting of the production by German director, Chrstof Loy with Designer Christian Schmidt, did not always make for happy viewing, even when the music and singing was at its most glorious. In particular the crowd scenes which featured a line of men in sparkling tights and green top hats did little to provide an appropriate atmosphere. The Marquis’ splendid house reappeared in many forms, including as Leonora’s rocky cave. The monastery and the public house were more amenable to sharing and, the army encampment had a set and backcloth of its own.

As always, Conductor Antonio Pappano made sure the Royal Opera House orchestra played magnificently, the drummers having a grand effect. My neighbour in the auditorium was coming back two days later to see the alternative cast. You can’t have a greater accolade than that.

Royal Opera House
La Forza del Destino
Guiseppe Verdi
Conductor Antonio Pappano
Original Director Christof Loy

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