May 6, 2008

La Forza di Mehta

La Forza Del Destino
Giuseppe Verdi
Synopsis here, libretto there.

Current repertoire of the Vienna State Opera.
Next performances here.
Review of the premiere (March 1, 2008) broadcast on 3 sat.

Leonora - Nina Stemme
Don Carlo - Carlos Alvarez
Alvaro - Salvatore Licitra
Preziosilla - Nadia Krasteva
Marchese di Calatrava / Padre Guardiano - Alastair Miles

Conductor - Zubin Mehta
Director - David Poutney

Axel Zeininger / Wiener Staatsoper GmbH

I. The staging

This part I didn't like for sure (but I liked the production of Il Tabarro by Poutney seen here in Lyon last Spring), and especially his choice to portray the Bohemians as a Cowboy-style Crazy Horse show. I get he tried to update the story, but the main reason for his failure is his ostentatious disrespect for the religious matters that are so intrinsic to this opera.
It's hard not to be upset, even for deeply atheist people like myself, by the antinomy between those Cowboy-evangelical freaks acting out while Carlo is singing "In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti." (Act II) for instance, especially when the costume design is so provocative and vain.
[Someone from the audience shouted "Assassino di Verdi" and others booed at the end of the most absurd scene - Act 3 -, when Melitone lectures the people on their decadent and ungodly manners while being strapped in duct tape and bullied.]

Realistically, the only way to succeed would have been to step the ideas down, be less incendiary of the Catholic Church and stage the religious parts in a TV evangelical context.

The set design in that militant production managed to create some beautiful images though, such as the cross at the end of Act 2 or the industrial framework at the beginning of Act 3 (before the political madness of Poutney overwhelms it).

II. The cast

Surely the team assembled for the premiere was very decent and talented, yet I can't feel passionate about either of the singers.
Nadia Krasteva was average, Stemme was not at ease, Alvarez was good but his acting is just not right, and Alaistar Miles had a great evening, even if I strongly disagree with the choice (probably Poutney's) to cast him in both Il Marchese (Leonora's father) and Padre Guardiano (head of the monastery she enters i.e. her religious father, a idea that is just too simple for me).

Salvatore Licitra

If tenors were judged upon their middle and low registers, Licitra would be in line at the gates of their pantheon. Unfortunately for him, opera standards haven't changed on that matter in over 400 years, and high notes are still what tenors are remembered for.
Since what he lacks in singing is not counterbalanced at all by his acting, he will remain, by my personal standards, an average tenor who incomprehensibly is casted by all the major Opera Houses around the world.

III. The music

This is the real catch of this production, at least conducted by Zubin Mehta.
I'll admit it is very difficult for me to be open to hearing Verdi's music conducted by someone else than Riccardo Muti because obviously he had a tremendous influence on the way I perceive music (especially Verdi's).
That explains why for instance, I am very reluctant to attend performances (unless JDF sings in it, that goes without saying) of the operas I love most (in Verdi's case, Rigoletto, Don Carlos, Il Trovatore, Attila and La Forza, in that order).

The conduction of Mehta was under scrutiny from the very first seconds of the overture, let me tell you.
Well, I was blown away, simply put.

On a scale from 0 to 10 (10 being Muti), I would give Mehta a 9.5.
His reading of the piece is exquisite, really.
All in finesse and style, always spot on, served by a brilliant execution of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Chorus, full of live and light. A magnificent piece of jewelry.

Further readings:

- A review from someone who actually attended the piece (not the premiere though)
- The Associated Press review from March 2

No comments: