La Forza del Destino review – guilt and obsession with opera's biggest stars

Royal Opera House, London
Christof Loy cannot quite bring Verdi’s ungainly drama together but Jonas Kaufmann, Anna Netrebko and Antonio Pappano force their operatic flair to the fore

Directed by Christof Loy, the Royal Opera’s new production of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino is an import from Amsterdam, where it was first seen in September 2017. Theatrically, it is an uneven affair, compounded of grandeur and longueurs, which you could argue reflects the unwieldy nature of the work itself, with its unstable mix of fatalistic tragedy and bitter comedy. Musically, it is at times tremendous. There are cast changes as the run progresses, but the lineup on opening night, with Anna Netrebko as Leonora, Jonas Kaufmann as Alvaro and Ludovic Tézier as Carlo, was starry in the extreme – and unquestionably exciting.

Netrebko’s ability to combine vocal weight with delicacy allows her both to power her way magnificently through the climaxes of Madre, Pietosa Vergine and float the long lines of La Vergine Degli Angeli with exquisite ease.

Kaufmann, with his dark tone and passionate delivery, makes a very Byronic Alvaro – ardent yet guilt-ridden – while Tézier’s Carlo has the implacable fanaticism of the obsessive: their scenes together, the high points of the evening, are thrillingly done. Elsewhere, though, things are less even. Veronica Simeoni struggles a bit as Preziosilla, though Ferruccio Furlanetto makes a noble, authoritative Padre Guardiano, and Alessandro Corbelli is wonderfully sardonic and funny as Melitone. Antonio Pappano, meanwhile, conducts with great commitment and energy.

Veronica Simeoni as Preziosilla (right).
Veronica Simeoni as Preziosilla (right). Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Loy, however, perhaps tries to do too much. He opens with an awkward dumbshow, in which the Calatrava family turns in on itself psychologically after the death of Leonora and Carlo’s younger brother.

Elsewhere, we’re continually reminded of the persistence of memory as scenes of the Marquis’s accidental death, repeatedly projected on to the walls of Christian Schmidt’s set, evoke flashbacks to past trauma from which the characters are unable to escape. The tone sometimes falters, and the transformation of the army camp scenes into a surreal revue, reminiscent of Oh, What a Lovely War, sits at times uneasily with the score. Ultimately, it doesn’t quite gel, though the performance itself is magnificent and unforgettable.

  • At Royal Opera House, London, until 22 April.

Contributor

Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
La Forza del Destino review – sprawling saga brought into sharper focus
Wonderful singing, Carlo Rizzi’s immaculate conducting and David Pountney’s dramatic staging bring welcome clarity to Verdi’s implausible piece

Andrew Clements

04, Feb, 2018 @11:11 AM

Article image
Otello review – Kaufmann thrills in a dark, expressionistic staging
In his role debut, Jonas Kaufmann’s arrestingly-sung Otello is a charismatic and troubled outsider in a production that can feel heavy-handed

Tim Ashley

22, Jun, 2017 @11:49 AM

Article image
Simon Boccanegra review – Carlos Álvarez dazzles in Verdi's dark epic
The mesmerising baritone is entirely convincing in Elijah Moshinsky’s revival of Verdi’s broodingly intense portrait of a man haunted by his past

Tim Ashley

16, Nov, 2018 @1:14 PM

Article image
The week in classical: La forza del destino; Berenice – review
Netrebko and Kaufmann turn tricky Verdi into box-office gold. Plus, a memorable outing for Handel’s Berenice

Fiona Maddocks

30, Mar, 2019 @3:00 PM

Article image
Macbeth review – musically formidable revival of Verdi's opera
Željko Lučić and Anna Netrebko give powerful performances and Phyllida Lloyd directs this imperfect yet intriguing revamp

Tim Ashley

27, Mar, 2018 @12:29 PM

Article image
La Forza del Destino | Opera review
Holland Park, London
This sprawling tragedy requires a tight grip to truly reveal Verdi's vision – and Martin Duncan's production rises to the challenge, writes George Hall

George Hall

28, Jul, 2010 @8:29 PM

Article image
Opera's rising star: Lise Davidsen on learning to handle the high life
Hailed as one of the greatest voices of her generation, the Norwegian soprano is taking on Beethoven’s freedom-loving heroine at Covent Garden. She talks about family, friends and facing her fears

Erica Jeal

25, Feb, 2020 @7:18 PM

Article image
Fidelio review – Davidsen approaches greatness in uneven production
Tobias Kratzer’s new staging rips Beethoven’s only opera in two to bring contemporary resonance but little of the composer’s original vision, but the singing is superb

Tim Ashley

02, Mar, 2020 @11:17 AM

Article image
Neil Gaiman on Coraline the terrifying opera: 'Being brave means being scared'
The writer’s gripping tale of a young girl trapped in a button-eyed world has been turned into a macabre opera. Did they tone down the horror? Our writer meets composer Mark-Anthony Turnage as she goes backstage

Erica Jeal

23, Mar, 2018 @5:57 PM

Article image
La Traviata review – Lauren Fagan's Violetta dazzles in OHP's fine show
Rodula Gaitanou’s thoughtful production brings insight and clarity to Verdi’s tragedy

Tim Ashley

30, May, 2018 @11:20 AM