Monday, October 21, 2013

One of My Real Favorites

If you decide to see even one opera this year, especially at the Washington National Opera, make it the current presentation, Verdi's La Forza del Destino, translated in the notices as The Force of Destiny.  This is not the best-known Verdi opera by any means but I'm absolutely delighted that WNO decided to put it on this year in recognition of the 200th Verdi anniversary.

Unlike any of the more famous Verdi operas, and I include Aida, Rigoletto, La Traviata, and Il Trovatore in that group, La Forza has a musical theme that runs throughout the opera.  It holds together what is the usual semi-ridiculous opera plot and manifests itself in some of the best singing pieces--duets mainly--that the opera offers.

The WNO production placed the opera in a contemporary setting, including, as one of my companions observed, an inn scene that was transposed to something approximating the old raunchy Times Square of New York.  Pole dancers are performing as the heroine, Leonora, aims to escape her pursuing, avenging brother, Carlo. The monastery to which she retreats is more of an industrial complex replete with containers, into one of which is tucked her hermit's hideaway.

Musically the opera is so strong that it can readily work just as well with these updates.  The Leonora, soprano Adina Aaron, had a strong, warm voice that impressed me from the opening scene, now presented as a prologue prior to the renowned overture.  She also shone in the great concluding pace, pace aria, although for some reason, that did not overwhelm me the way it normally does.

Of the rest of the cast, bass Enrico Iori as Padre Guardiano was superb.  The rest were fine, although the tenor left me wanting more--as the critical notice in the Washington Post contended, he did tend to shout and as a result, some of his lines came across as distinctly unmelodic.  The opera was presented in two acts, which also made sense. As a whole, it held together more than it has in most productions I've seen, at both WNO and the Met.

As the reviews had indicated, there were some cuts, none as severe as used to be the custom at the Met in former days, when the entire inn scene was deleted.  Some scenes were shortened here--especially the camp-followers "Rataplan" scene in what is the second act. Not only was some singing by lesser characters left out but it seemed that some of the great tenor-baritone duets may have been abbreviated.  As a whole, however, the opera flowed much better than it usually does--and for that, we all should be most appreciative of the successful conceptualization by WNO artistic director Francesca Zambello, who directed this excellent production.

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