Touring – reviewed at Mayflower Theatre Southampton
Guest reviewer: Rhys Scrivener
La Forza del Destino (The Power of Fate) is a mighty sprawling Italian opera by Verdi which was first performed in 1863. The improbable story revolves around Don Alvaro and his love for Donna Leonora, a disapproving father, and the “Force of Destiny “unleashing a tragic string of events. Verdi struggled to fit his score to the original play by Saavedra and after its initial performance several re-writes resulted in one of his very best works musically. There was a nod by WNO to the original 1863 score in Act 3 which helped with the overall flow of the performance.
There was a slightly shaky start to the evening as the orchestra played randomly and fully tuned up in front of the audience – something you would expect from a school’s orchestra but not a professional one. The situation was worsened by the curtain raising with the house lights still up to reveal our female lead in bed, which left the audience wondering if this was some new avant-garde way of starting an Opera.
Everyone was settled by the three repeating E’s, and the orchestra delivered an impeccable performance of this popular overture under the skilled direction of the conductor Carlo Rizzi. Apart from the distraction of orchestra members leaving the pit in the middle of key moments they were, throughout the evening, both brilliant and sublime. Their quality of tone and sensitivity to the performers was truly world-class.
The chorus for me was a bit Jekyll and Hyde. Their singing was perfection personified and with the orchestra created the definitive music version of this opera. The shading and delicacy of the sound was magnificent and perfectly balanced to support the lead roles. However, their mighty collective music talent didn’t extend to their ability to move which at best resembled a school nativity play. The constant shuffling and marching out of time was in the beginning annoying and towards the end had audience members laughing around us.
Unfortunately, the Morecombe and Wise award must go to the stage crew who throughout the evening struggled with the rather over-sized set. Stage hands with radio mics always somehow managed to be the centre of the scene. In one dramatic point the curtain was pulled back to reveal a stage hand frozen like a rabbit in the head-lights. The stage crew seemed intent to make good the La Forza curse by almost mowing down the leads with the set on several occasions. The indignant looks from the stage hand would have been comical if it wasn’t so tragically out-of-place.
David Pountney’s direction certainly injected some much-needed energy and pace and his slightly off the wall approach to the madness of war setting propelled the Opera through the third act where previous productions have often faltered and stumbled. I particularly liked the wet blood on the wall theme running through the evening. However, the criticism of the general stage craft of the chorus and stage crew must surely lie at Pountney’s feet.
To leave the principals to last is in no-way meant to undermine how impressive they were but the orchestra and chorus did set the music-bar stratospherically high.
Photo Credit Richard Hubert-Smith
Mary Elizabeth Williams was outstanding throughout the evening, perfectly capturing the character and anguish of Donna Leonora. Her singing appeared effortless, and her silky tones never wavered through her incredible dynamic range. The scene in the monastery was truly heavenly with a magical and mesmerising sensitivity. Musically flawless.
Miklós Sebestyén provided an enduring and spell binding connection with Leonora as both her Father and the Padre. The richness of the tone and the delicate delivery left me wanting more every time he sang.
Luis Cansino’s characterisation of the brother drew the audience into the turmoil of someone duty bound to avenge his father’s death. He sang with a spectacular depth of passion throughout.
The role of Don Alvaro was tackled by Gwyn Hughes Jones and though his exquisite tenor voice delivered some memorable musical moments I felt that throughout he never made the emotional connection with Leonora. Against the back-drop of such a talented company his performance fell short of the mark on this occasion.
Photo Credit Richard Hubert-Smith
Justina Gringytė produced a relaxed and accomplished performance as the maid, army recruiter and fate. Her stage presence was mesmerising and provided a haunting reminder throughout that the Force of Destiny was always there.
If you are a seasoned opera fan, I urge you to force your destiny to align with Welsh National Opera and watch this production – the music is to die for. And for someone looking to dip their toe in the world of Opera I would highly recommend you dive right in with both feet. La Forza del Destino has it all: a blinding Verdi score, excitement, love, death and revenge.
WNO are also performing Tosca and Don Giovanni until Saturday at The Mayflower, then continues it tour with all 3 operas to Plymouth, Milton Keynes, Bristol and Llandudno.
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