Forza del destino, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2019.
At least one pair of tickets for this opening night with Anna Netrebko as Leonora and Jonas Kaufmann as Don Alvaro was said to have changed hands at £7,000. Was it worth it? Only the black market buyer can answer, but for the rest of us, Ms Netrekbo, who is present in Acts 1, 2 and 4, gave the evening an unforgettable ethereal quality. She was sublime. Mr. Kaufmann, who had been worryingly absent from the dress rehearsal, was back in harness, his marvellously soft high notes well in evidence, though a full emotional response only developed as the evening progressed, particularly in his Act 3 and 4 encounters with Ludovic Tézier, outstanding as Leonora’s unforgiving and vengeful brother Don Carlo.
In the original Spanish melodrama there are two brothers, both killed trying to exact revenge for their sister’s family betrayal and the accidental death of their father. Verdi reduces them to one, but Christof Loy’s production, first staged in Amsterdam in 2017, but new to the Royal Opera, shows one dying young in the mime scene during the overture. That merges seamlessly into the beginning of Act 1, where Leonora’s fatal delay in eloping with Alvaro leads to the argument with her father (the excellent Robert Lloyd) who dies when Alvaro’s gun accidentally goes off while he disarms himself. As the scene takes place, it appears on a video projection that recurs later in the opera, a reminder of the horror that drives Leonora to seek sanctuary as a hermit under the protection of a monastery nearby.
Loy’s production with its simple sets elides the distinction between monastery and hermit’s cave, but otherwise leaves the drama to speak for itself in the hands of these magnificent singers. Luxury casting with Alessandro Corbelli as the wittily ill-tempered Fra Melitone, easily slapped down by Ferruccio Furlanetto as a deeply authoritative Padre Guardiano, head of the monastery. Veronica Simeoni moved beautifully as the gypsy Preziosilla, but Otto Pichler’s choreography for the six male dancers in Act 3 was clichéd and repetitive.
The chorus, however, danced with great musicality, singing superbly, and Antonio Pappano’s conducting brought out the driving power of fate that informs the drama. The construction of the set helped bring the sound forward, and though one might quibble with some aspects of the production, this was a cast to be remembered for years to come.
Continues through 22 April, with cinema screenings on April 3 and 7, and a BBC Radio 3 broadcast on May 25.