La Forza del Destino, Holland Park Opera, OHP, August 2010

“Vengeance is mine”, saith the Lord, but the quest for revenge by the Calatrava family, personified by its son, Don Carlo, leads to deaths only in the family itself. In his dying throes, Carlo manages to kill his sister Leonora as she comforts him, but the person he most wanted to kill, namely his sister’s beloved Don Alvaro, lives on. Such is Alvaro’s fate, the power of fate being the theme of this opera, whose driving force is Verdi’s music.

The backdrop to Act III, all images OHP/ Fritz Curzon

I’ve always found it terrific stuff, and was delighted with the excellent musical direction by Stuart Stratford, whom I remember doing an equally fine job at Holland Park last summer with Katya Kabanova. Peter Auty was powerfully lyrical as Alvaro, and his soliloquy in Act III, when he pleads with an absent Leonora to pity his suffering, was superb. Mark Stone was a very strong Carlo, and the two of them together in Act III were wonderful. Gweneth-Ann Jeffers as Leonora was remarkable — she modulated her voice seamlessly from quiet passages to loud ones, and gave this role a powerful undertow of emotion. Among the other parts in this opera, Donald Maxwell was delightful as Fra Melitone, amusing, with perfect comic timing and a gloriously strong voice. No wonder I found him so good as the Major-Domo in Fille du Régiment at Covent Garden three months ago. Mikhail Svetlov sang well as Padre Guardiano, as did Carole Wilson as the gypsy Preziosilla, reminding me of her analogous role in Ballo last summer.

Alvaro holds the dying Leonora

The production by Martin Duncan works very well, with wonderful designs by Alison Chitty, whom I recall doing magical work for Birtwistle’s Minotaur at Covent Garden in April 2008. Here she did another piece of magic. Act III had a black cloth backdrop with chairs hanging in front, along with red cords stretching from floor to rafters at various angles. Lampshades hanging from the rafters were lit blue, and the chairs were projected onto the backdrop. Mark Jonathan’s dark lighting on this set produced the effect of a Kandinsky painting, which I thought entirely appropriate to the time in which the opera was set, namely early-mid twentieth century. Altogether this was a superbly designed production using little more than chairs as props — brilliant.

Congratulations to Opera Holland Park, a fitting production for this, the last night of their season.

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