Culture Magazine

De' Fantasmi Lo Spavento: La Forza Del Destino

By Singingscholar @singingscholar
The above trailer was what swayed a visiting friend towards Wiesbaden's current run of La Forza del Destino, as we looked for a piece to experience together. On Monday night, the orchestral performance was solid, led with brio by Christoph Stiller. The subtlety of the ensemble may not always have risen to Stiller's vision, but the performance was pleasingly fresh and shamelessly engaging, with brisk tempi and good pacing. At climactic moments, the singers occasionally were overpowered, but they became a part of the crashing texture of Verdian sound, rather than being drowned out.
The production by Immo Karaman set the claustrophobic and paranoid household of the Calatravas in the mid-twentieth century, where Don Carlo's status as a student is a marker of class, the sneers about Alvaro's race are painfully plausible, and Curra smokes, and observes, and sees, more clearly than anyone, the cause of liberation that can be served by Leonora's terrified attempts at rebellion. Like the production in Munich I saw earlier this year, Karaman's Forza staging is largely a dream or nightmare landscape. (Listening this time, I was struck by Leonora and Alvaro's references to having bad dreams… and what is Carlo's sick obsession with revenge if not a waking nightmare?) The bedroom in which the Marchese is shot expands dizzyingly to become a crematorium, shrinking again around the son who has to sort through worldly effects while numbed by grief, shape-shifting to become the bar/casino/brothel which has sprung up on the margins of war. Finally, it becomes again the bedroom, a space made uncanny by all that has come before. This may be yet another flashback or the "real" conclusion of the night shattered into nightmare by the shot; Curra's act of quietly closing the window, and drawing the curtains against the dawn, suggests the latter. Alvaro's defiance of order has failed spectacularly; but for the one resilient survivor, there may yet be hope.
The conceit of using the strange telescoping and slowing of time characteristic of dreams works well with the episodic Forza (which here was given with several cuts. As long as I'm in this parenthesis: I have read with enjoyment and edification articles on the musical structure of Forza, but as an audience member, I still experience it as episodic. Sorry, Verdi-scholars.) Individual characterization was uneven, but the singing was generally strong. The chorus was impressive throughout, consistent and energetic. As the Marchese and Padre Guardiano, Bernd Hofmann was appropriately stentorian, and in the former role, credibly creepy (his interactions with Leonora hover uneasily between the infantilizing and the incestuous.) The vocally and dramatically challenging role of Preziosilla was handled with flair and finesse by Ute Döring. Her vocal agility and expressive range would have been praiseworthy even without the emotional nuance she brought to the performance. Parenthetically, I really liked the characterization of Curra/Preziosilla, and the addition of nurse-maids with agency, but looked askance at their short skirts and wobble-high heels. I've seen several productions which thematize the objectification of women much better.
Marc Heller made a pleasing Alvaro, displaying a muscular, well-rounded tenor, and an impressive talent for leaping through windows and swaggering in a James Dean jacket. As Don Carlo, Kiril Manolov was commanding in every sense. Manolov's large frame was a fortunate accident of nature; his stage presence and skillfully wielded baritone were even more imposing. With burnished tone and sensitive phrasing, Manolov made the obsessed Carlo a credible and fascinating individual… and "Urna fatal" was delicious. The run's Leonora, Tatiana Plotnikova, seemed to be having an off night. She has a sizable voice, with an interesting gleam to its top, but she struggled with intonation in the first act, and seemed to be working past some vocal tightness or obstruction at other times (hence my suspicion of an illness current or recent.) The audience received her with warmth, and she did do a creditable job of navigating Leonora's hallucinatory journey, showing admirable commitment under what must have been trying circumstances. The orchestra displayed magnificent energy in the final scene, refusing sentimentality, bringing the arc of the evening to an appropriately brutal close.

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