[Met Performance] CID:323470
New Production
La Forza del Destino {211} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/29/1996.


Metropolitan Opera House
February 29, 1996
New Production

Giuseppe Verdi--Francesco Maria Piave

Leonora.................Sharon Sweet
Don Alvaro..............Plácido Domingo
Don Carlo...............Vladimir Chernov
Padre Guardiano.........Roberto Scandiuzzi
Preziosilla.............Gloria Scalchi
Fra Melitone............Bruno Pola
Marquis de Calatrava....Hao Jiang Tian
Curra...................Jane Shaulis
Mayor...................James Courtney
Trabuco.................Michel Sénéchal
Surgeon.................Christopher Schaldenbrand

Conductor...............James Levine

Production..............Giancarlo Del Monaco
Designer................Michael Scott
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler
Choreographer...........Maria Benitez

La Forza del Destino received ten performances this season.

Production gift of Mr. and Mrs. Paul M. Montrone

Addition funding by Bill Rollnick and Nancy Ellison Rollnick, The Schonberger Family Foundation, the Annie Laurie Aitken Charitable Trust, and the Eleanor Naylor Dana Charitable Trust

Review of Paul Griffiths in the New Yorker

St. Petersburg was as far from home as Verdi travelled, and the opera he wrote for that city, -- "La Forza del Destino," has a lot to say about exile. Part of its message comes, as James Levine and his musicians wonderfully display throughout the new Met production in the quality of the orchestral music, which moves away from anything noisy or ordinary, as if trekking off toward polish. Verdi presumably had plenty of opportunity to hear the orchestra of the Imperial Theatre before he completed his score in 1862, and presumably this prior experience accounts for much of what's special about "Forza": the refinement, the lack of weight and splash, the engraving of expression, the superb long instrumental melodies. Mr. Levine and his players make it all song and fine gesture, represented by the clarinet solo at the start of the third act - grandly and nobly phrased, with an almost flutelike purity of tone - and by the impellent drumming in the finale. But the drama begins in the overture and, since this was added for the 1869 revision, Verdi must have been responding here not to his personnel but to his work. The "force of destiny" is a musical idea. It's the abrasion of urgency on repose and it's figured for us, first of all, in the overture, in the assault of repetitive music - which not only symbolizes the call of progress, in being beat-driven and in marking time through its iterations - on cantabile melody. The insistent circlings can belong only to the orchestra; the tunes are evidently meant to be sung. And so the orchestra sets up a demand that it will reinforce in not very subtle fashion at the first turning point in the drama (the reappearance of Leonora's father to confront her nocturnal visitor, Alvaro) and again at the start of the last scene, and which it will imply all through: the demand for control.

That's why the libretto has to be such a mess. If one looks for justification of the title in the text, one's bound for disappointment. Nowhere is it explained why Leonora and Alvaro, on the point of leaving together at the end of Act I, should become separated or why Alvaro should, soon afterward, believe Leonora dead. Far from being forced by fate, these people are condemned to an unmotivated wandering, and Leonora's brother Carlo - though having the motive of revenge for an affront to family honor - necessarily wanders with them. The whole opera is a protracted, dislocated prelude to the moment when its three central characters finally meet and the further irony of the title is that Verdi had second thoughts about what should happen then. Should all three die, in a rapid fall of bodies (which early audiences seem to have found more gross than ridiculous) to be followed by a choral prayer, or should Alvaro survive and the opera end more intimately?

Mr. Levine's choice - the 1869 version but with the 1862 order for the third act - allows him to end that act with the focus on Alvaro, which is where anyone would want it when Placido Domingo is singing the part. His interpretation is keen. The sound is dark and taut; its gleam is the gleam on old wood and Mr. Domingo's vocal joinery is as expert as ever, the phrases integral and the ornaments fitted in justly. There must be a word in Spanish for the robust yet aristocratic distaste he conveys - not only in this role but especially and rightly in this role. His Alvaro is a man who is trying to conduct himself with dignity - through a world without scruples - a world that will buffet him from palace to battlefield and on to monastery without any satisfactory logic, and in which the people he's closest to will either be removed from him without cause or be present in disguise. It's a world in which time and place, as measured by words, have lost their grip, and the characters, inasmuch as they're made by words, have lost themselves, preserving only, but crucially, what's defined for them by music - their emotional core. Mr. Domingo's Alvaro is this: not Alvaro at all but a nameless one who has to behave as if he were Alvaro in situations in which he has been suddenly and inexplicably inserted at the behest of the music. Music, in this most experimental of Verdi's operas, takes off on its own. We can see no reason for what happens, but we can hear every reason. One can imagine ways in which a production might connect with the work's rootlessness, its disesteem of consequence in drama or location, by providing settings and actions to suggest the dangerous insubstantiality of nightmare. There could be nothing onstage but mist or a labyrinth. Duets could be duets of search rather than of arrival together. Religious retreat, to which both Alvaro and Leonora resort, could be shown as an almost autistic reaction to a prevailing unanswerability in the universe.

It was not, of course, in order to explore such possibilities of stagecraft that Giancarlo del Monaco became the Met's director of choice in the Italian repertory, and yet his production does - thanks to its monumentally stagy decor, by Michael Scott and to its calm failure to be surprised by anything the scenario can throw at it - amount to one huge alienation effect. At the start, Mr. del Monaco and Mr. Scott seem to be playing a more sophisticated game, for the initial couple of sets are presented boxed and tidy. But then the production team - including the lighting designer, Gil Wechsler - defiantly throws caution to the winds. We get a wide wall of fake tombs, a candlelit Franciscan church interior that comes sliding forward, a battlefield of tree stumps and feeble fireworks, and a spread hand of towering ruins as container for the second ebullient scene with Preziosilla and her varied entourage. This is all nonsense, of course, but in being nonsense it makes no claim to be embodying the real action of the piece and thereby serves the opera admirably. There's a moment, too, in the first church scene, when the set is used to create a striking acoustic effect, that of the chorus lying face down and singing into the floor.

Altogether, "Forza" comes boldly across as a drama in which some of the characters -- those going under the names of Leonora, Alvaro, and Carlo - are never where they hope to be, while others, including most notably Preziosilla, would never think of being anywhere but where they are. That could define the difference between tragedy and comedy, and Verdi's alternation of the two (which is another experimental feature of the work, perhaps contingent on the first) is excellently maneuvered, as it must be, by Mr. Levine and the orchestra, who make fifes and
jingles as demanding of our interest as suavity and catastrophe. It also helps have a decorous Preziosilla in Gloria Scalchi, who suggests the untamed means of strong white tone - particularly in the second act, where her interlace, with Sharon Sweet's Leonora is startling for clarity and contrast - rather than posturing.

Ms. Sweet had some problems in the first act on [the premiere] night, when there was a tendency to howl above the break, but later she was beautifully consistent and consistently beautiful: the fault was, perhaps, of too little change in the radiance, but it was a fault one could bear. Her costuming in the trousers scene was sympathetic. As Carlo, completing the triangle, Vladimir Chernov was a singing muscle: fit, bang on the note, nothing wasted. He, too, lacks something in variety of color: everything has a gray, slight choked feel to it. But he's an effective performer, as vigorous and trim in his movement as in his singing. Another fine performance came from Roberto Scandiuzzi who sang the Padre Guardiano with the inevitable gravity but also with grace, the brief notes feathered into the line. Bruno Pola was the nicely greasy Melitone. Michel Sénéchal gave a veteran's show of health as Trabuco.

Review of Justin Davidson in Newsday

Domingo Brings Light to a Dark 'La Forza'

No doubt every new production at the Metropolitan Opera is conceived in a moment of passion: a dashed-off sketch for a set, perhaps, or the thrilling prospect of pairing two great voices. But sometimes, as in the Met's new "Forza del Destino," the production takes on a death of its own.
Was it some inexorable curse, some Verdian force of destiny, that made this production so prematurely stodgy, or did someone really want it this way?. Michael Scott dressed both sets and singers in dour brown, gray and black, and even the hip-swiveling in the tavern scene seemed like so much dutiful debauchery. Gil Wechsler's lighting was so lugubrious that Placido Domingo and Sharon Sweet had to grope toward each other like things that go bump in the night. (Wechsler may have the canniness to realize that some things are better off unseen.)

A more inventive, hipper staging might have made much of the opera's assortment of juicy themes: race, religion, prejudice, long-festering rage and the hopelessness of wishing for redemption. Domingo sings the role of Alvaro, an Inca prince who has wound up in Seville and is unjustly blamed for staining the honor of the high-born Leonora and murdering her bigoted father - it doesn't take a Peter Sellars to imagine a way to make that scenario more trenchant.

People-watching at intermission was not the only good thing about the evening, however: There was Domingo, who sang as well as ever, his voice both rich and light. Domingo is almost always convincing in the more than 100 roles he sings (in this one opera alone, he must make the transition from Inca prince to Spanish soldier to monk), if not so much because of his dramatic versatility, but because even at 56, he still captures the essence of the 19th Century romantic hero: the pouty but well-intentioned boy for whom things just never seem to work out. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he wails at the end of so many operas, standing over the dead body of Leonora or Carmen or Violetta or Desdemona - and he really seems to mean it.

Sweet's singing, on the other hand, gave the lie to her name: She delivered shrink-wrapped emotions with unsteady intonation and a hollow voice. Fortunately, her character, Leonora, slinks off to a hermit's life of silent contemplation after the first act - but of course everyone knows the opera ain't over until she sings again. Sweet seemed to have spent the intervening hours meditating on her vocal sins, and when she returned at the end, she managed to eke some beauty out of the final bloodbath.

Among the supporting players, Bruno Pola was robust as the gruff monk Melitone and, in such a dreary production, his abuse of a crowd of hungry beggars had to pass for comic relief. Vladimir Chernov sounded fine as Leonora's vindictive brother, Don Carlo, though he often seemed to be suffering peeve rather than rage at the deeds. Roberto Scandiuzzi was a solemn and big-voiced prior of the monastery where the main characters take their refuge and revenge, and Gloria Scalchi's gypsy fortune-teller Preziosilla sounded suitably ravaged.

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