La Forza del destino, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, February 2018Posted on 11 February 2018
Fate, personified by a tall, elegant, funereal character, strikes the stage with a staff at the very start of this production, and after the Marquis of Calatrava’s accidental death the blood on the wall is a constant reminder to his daughter Leonora and her lover Don Alvaro of their inability to be reconciled with him nor with the implacable hatred of her brother Don Carlo.
This personification of Fate reappears throughout the opera, assisting in the unavoidable destiny of the three principal characters, as well as killing and wounding in a holy war that director David Pountney deftly weaves into this excellent staging. While penitence and the positive power of the Church shine through the broken walls of civilisation, this opera holds together where it can fall apart in a less secure production. The simple but cleverly designed sets by Raimund Bauer, costumes by Marie-Jeanne Lecca and lighting by Fabrice Kebour, help bring out an intensity that warps personal honour into a singularity where only Alvaro achieves redemption, but at a terrible price.
In the orchestra pit, Carlo Rizzi drives Verdi’s music forward with lyrical eloquence, bringing out the superb chorus and allowing the singers space to express their feelings of hatred, guilt, yearning, and in the case of the clerics both charity and the lack of it. As Padre Guardiano, who provides Leonora the protection of God and a cave to live in unmolested, Miklós Sebestyen sang with generosity of tone and spirit, well contrasted with his earlier powerful appearance as the Marquis of Calatrava, and quite the opposite of the mean but witty Fra Melitone, so well portrayed by Donald Maxwell.
The sinister, unspoken character of Fate in this production was merged with the singing role of Preziosilla, both elegantly and strikingly performed by Justina Gringyté. This was the second night, so nerves that might have affected some performers at the premiere of this production were absent, and Mary Elizabeth Williams gave a finely emotional account of Leonora, with Luis Cansino strongly vengeful as her brother, Carlo. Shining through the dark events of hatred, war and destiny, Gwyn Hughes Jones’s heroically lyrical Alvaro, carried an unswerving commitment to love and hope of redemption in an opera whose performance sometimes lacks both.
That David Pountney manages to combine so many themes so smoothly in an opera whose staging can sometimes appear clunky and cumbersome is a powerful reason to see what is certainly one of Verdi’s most compelling scores.
Performances continue at: Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, 17 Feb; Birmingham Hippodrome, 6 Mar; Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, 21 Mar; Theatre Royal Plymouth, 27 Mar; Milton Keynes Theatre, 7 Apr; The Bristol Hippodrome, 14 Apr; Venue Cymru, Llandudno, 21 Apr.