Thursday, 11 July 2019

La forza del destino: Verdi's sprawling masterpiece in a highly picturesque production at the Paris Opera

Verdi: La forza del destino - Opera National de Paris (Photo Julien Benhamou / OnP)
Verdi: La forza del destino - Opera National de Paris (Photo Julien Benhamou / OnP)
Verdi La forza del destino; Elena Stikhina, Brian Jagde, Zeljko Lucic, Varduhi Abrahamyan, Rafal Siwek, Gabriele Viviani, dir: Jean-Claude Auvray/Stephen Taylor, cond: Nicola Luisotti; Opera National de Paris
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 9 July 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A finely balanced cast brings strong musical values to this revival of Jean-Claude Auvray's handsome 2011 production

Verdi: La forza del destino - Brian Jagde, Elena Stikhina - Opera National de Paris (Photo Julien Benhamou / OnP)
Verdi: La forza del destino - Brian Jagde, Elena Stikhina
Opera National de Paris (Photo Julien Benhamou / OnP)
Jean-Claude Auvray's 2011 production of Verdi's La forza del destino was revived at Paris' Opera Bastille (revival director Stephen Taylor) for ten performances of which we caught the last (9 July 2019). Nicola Luisotti conducted with Elena Stikhina as Leonora, Brian Jagde as Don Alvaro, Zeljko Lucic as Don Carlo, Varduhi Abrahamyan as Preziosilla, Rafal Siwek as Padre Guardiano and Gabriele Viviani as Fra Melitone.

Auvray set the opera in the 19th century, identifying the battles with those of the Risorgimento. Despite some interesting ideas in Auvray's programme note, the attractively traditional production (sets Alain Chambon, costumes Maria Chiara Donato) rarely went beyond the simply pictorial. Auvray seemed to have a fascination with painted backdrops which were allowed to drop at the end of scenes, perhaps evoking the production's use of flags. The set was often quite plain, with Auvray and Chambon placing single items such as a huge crucifix to striking effect.

Auvray seemed uninterested in Don Alvaro's otherness, his programme note insisting it as Don Avaro's religion not his race which the marquis objected to.

Verdi: La forza del destino - Varduhl Abrahamyan, Zeljko Lucic - Opera National de Paris (Photo Julien Benhamou / OnP)
Verdi: La forza del destino - Varduhi Abrahamyan, Zeljko Lucic
Opera National de Paris (Photo Julien Benhamou / OnP)
Auvray's handling of the chorus (which is an important feature of this opera) was on the careful side, with the large group used in simple blocks, often quite stationary. So for the Inn scene the chorus simply sat around a huge table and occasional dancers enlivened the scene in an overtly theatrical way. The overall result was to create some very striking stage pictures which made a strong setting for the singers.

Elena Stikhina (who was sharing the role with Anja Harteros) had a beautifully produced, fresh-sounding spinto voice, only occasionally did some passages seem low for her. It was a finely sung account, crowned with a finely moving final aria. But this Leonora was perhaps a little too placid, a little too accepting. Leonora's actions are hardly normal, and I missed the neurotic intensity that some bring to the role. But rarely have I heard mid-period Verdi song so finely.

Don Alvaro was sung by the young American tenor Brian Jagde. He brought youthful lively tone to the role, with enough heft to cut through the orchestra and stamina to spare. Jagde is not the most dynamic of stage animals, but he brought out Don Alvaro's youth and engaging energy, bonding well with Zeljko Lucic's forbidding Don Carlo.

Verdi: La forza del destino - Rafal Siwek, Elena Stikhina - Opera National de Paris (Photo Julien Benhamou / OnP)
Verdi: La forza del destino - Rafal Siwek, Elena Stikhina
Opera National de Paris (Photo Julien Benhamou / OnP)
But Lucic seemed to belong to a different production, his Don Carlo was older and more grizzled, his voice lacked the youthful energy of the other two principals. Whilst this was a beautifully sung account of the role, Lucic never really convinced us that this Don Carlo had the first of revenge burning inside of him.

Varduhi Abrahamyan made a vividly engaging, earthy Preziosilla. This was a very lived in performance, which is just right. Abrahamyan brought bags of personality to the tricky role.

Rafal Siwek made a poised Padre Guardiano, one suspected he was rather ascetic and definitely at one remove from humanity in great contrast to Gabriele Viviani's very human Melitone. As with the best performances of this role, Viviani added a nice sense of serious intensity to the humour. Carlo Cigni made a youthful, upright and unbending Marquis.

The smaller roles were all well taken with Majdouline Zeran as a delightful Curra, Rodolphe Bricano as an upright Mastro Trabuco, Luciano Prete as the Alcade and Laurent Laberdesque as the surgeon.

Verdi: La forza del destino - Elena Stikhina - Opera National de Paris (Photo Julien Benhamou / OnP)
Verdi: La forza del destino - Elena Stikhina - Opera National de Paris (Photo Julien Benhamou / OnP)
The large chorus sang well, and made the big chorus numbers fill the auditorium. In the pit Luisotti conducted a fluid account of the piece so this most sprawling of operas really flowed. The playing from the Paris Opera Orchestra was admirable.

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